Once upon a time, financially successful people spent the bulk of their lives working and then, after they retired, they would “give back” some of what they had earned in the form of philanthropy. Their largest philanthropic gifts were often made upon their death.
Today, at least for the uber-successful, philanthropy is something you do now.
On the Oprah Winfrey show today, 26-year-old, billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that he would be giving $100 million to the Newark public school system. According to the Wall Street Journal, the gift represented an intentional decision by Zuckerberg to not wait until the end of his career to focus on philanthropy.
Once upon a time, massive donations made by the wealthy were directed to organization that they had a personal connection with such as their alma mater. Since the super wealthy tend to have personal connections with institutions in education, health care and the arts rather than direct social service organizations, the former received the bulk of major gifts.
Today, at least for the uber-successful, the focus of philanthropy is moving towards donations that can make the most difference.
The size of Zuckerberg’s gift, almost certainly making him the youngest person ever to donate $100 million, will make the headlines, but the real news is that the donation is going to Newark’s public school system which Zuckerberg never attended. Instead, the selection of Newark reflects Zuckerberg’s belief that it represents a prime opportunity to make a big difference.
Speaking to TechCrunch, Zuckerberg said:
“So we did all this research and we figured it would be a while until we found a good candidate but it turns out that Newark, New Jersey is a good candidate for a lot of reasons. So the main reason is that the leaders there are really good. So there’s this guy, Cory Booker, who’s the mayor and who’s a Democrat and the governor, Chris Christie in New Jersey is a Republican. They’re both really good leaders who are rising stars in their respective parties. And just very well respected nationally, have a lot of political capital that they can spend on trying to make the reforms, the changes that are painful but necessary to get this stuff done. And at the same time, Newark is one of the lowest performing school districts in the country right now.
What the real goal is here – is just to show that it’s working. I mean, I don’t have much of a connection to Newark. I grew up in New York, right outside the city. So Newark is just close by and it’s going to – I hope that this helps the 45,000 students who go to school there. But the long-term goal would be to make Newark into a symbol that you can do this. So that way, a lot of the results can get replicated in other places.”
In other words, Zuckerberg’s gift is driven by a desire to have maximum impact on an issue that he cares about.
Zuckerberg isn’t an isolated example. There is no doubt in my mind that his gift is a direct result of Bill Gates’ decision to leave Microsoft before age 50 to pursue philanthropy and the broader Giving Pledge effort of Gates and Warren Buffett. From the Giving Pledge to the billion dollars given by every day Americans in the wake of Haiti, philanthropy with a focus on impact is rushing into the mainstream.
These two shifts, the move to giving while living and giving for impact, are monumental. If this trend continues, it will transform philanthropy for the better.
Click here to read The Meaning of the Gates/Buffett Giving Pledge.