What are the philanthropy motivations of billionaires?

4 July 2010 | By Cause4 staff

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett recently invited the world’s billionaires to give away half their fortunes through an initiative called the Giving Pledge. All those on the Forbes 400 American Rich List have been asked to pledge half their net-worth either straightaway or else at their death. If everyone were to comply, this could raise US$600billion.

This has elicited a level of scepticism from some people about the true motivation of Gates, Buffett and those who have already pledged to give. It has been suggested that they are driven by ego rather than altruism. But the critics are missing the point and in danger of allowing an unhealthy degree of self-righteousness to cloud their thinking. Who are we (and they) to judge? Besides, does it really matter what the motivation for giving might be?

Donors give for a variety of reasons: genuine altruism, recognition that the state cannot and should not always provide all of the answers; connection with the cause, wanting to give back or adherence to religious expectations; many – in fact most - are probably aware of the tax-breaks that can come their way; some might even wish to massage their egos and enjoy the good publicity that will come their way. The important matter is that those seeking funds for all-important causes are helped to deliver their projects well.

We should spend less time questioning motives and channel our energies into building meaningful relationships with philanthropists, discovering what makes them tick, because therein lies the path to successful fundraising on which the important causes of charity are wholly dependent.

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