Thirty-eight US billionaires have pledged at least 50% of their wealth to charity through a campaign started by investor Warren Buffett and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
The same effort is underway in Europe to get wealthy individuals to give away half their fortunes before they die to charity. I am against this idea, but for a different reason than most of the European billionaires are using. Names, government should be doing this job. My objection is mainly based on impact.
Traditional philanthropy takes the principal and invests the money to achieve only financial returns, and gives away 5% to maintain non-profit status. Few of these large endowments, family offices, individuals, etc. try to achieve financial returns as well as achieving a positive social and environmental impact (impact investing). This traditional philanthropic route, namely give away 5%, which represents a portion of the interest, to charity, is a very poor use of capital. If the asset owner created a portfolio that achieved social, environmental, as well as financial returns, 100% of the money would be leveraged for society and the environment. In addition, if 5% of the returns were given away, the total leverage would be 105%. I don't know about you, but I learned that 105% is larger than 5%.
A majority of philanthropy is ego. People love to cut ribbons, see their names on buildings, wings, plaques, etc. If people are driven by ego, that is fine, but I don't think the taxpayer should finance this. By shifting from interest to principal, we impact more, and don't require a tax break to mobilize the money. In the United States, Federal tax law requires philanthropies to give away 5% of their total assets each year to maintain their nonprofit status. In these days of tight budgets, it might not be such a bad idea if more money was invested in impact investing.
If Warren, Bill, and the other billionaires are listening, "how about really leveraging money for the commons, by doing impact investing and leveraging much more, without having to go around trying to convince people to give half their money away. As astute businessmen, I am surprised that after all these years, they are still doing the same low impact approach. As Jerry Maguire said" Show me the money". Read more