VIDEO: Mark Zuckerberg and wife plan to give away almost all their $45bn fortune

Mark Zuckerberg and his wife’s pledge to give away virtually all of their $45bn (€42.5bn) in Facebook shares, has set a new philanthropic benchmark by committing their massive fortune to charitable causes while still in their early 30s.

VIDEO: Mark Zuckerberg and wife plan to give away almost all their $45bn fortune

Facebook’s chief executive and his wife, Priscilla Chan, unveiled the plan in an open letter to their newborn daughter, Max (short for Maxima), in a Facebook post, promising to donate 99% of their stock in the social-networking company “during our lives.”

The pledge puts Zuckerberg in the same league with other billionaires who are giving away the bulk of their wealth, including Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. The key difference is that Zuckerberg is starting at an earlier age, 31. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was created in 2000, the year the Microsoft co-founder turned 45.

Zuckerberg doesn’t plan to contribute more than $1bn a year for at least the next three years, Facebook said, meaning the CEO will maintain voting control of the company for the foreseeable future.

Zuckerberg outlined his philanthropic goals, which will focus on “advancing human potential and promoting equality,” in the letter to his daughter, who was born early last week. Zuckerberg will make long-term investments in areas such as health and education, while working to decrease inequality and building technology to bring about change.

“Our society has an obligation to invest now to improve the lives of all those coming into this world, not just those already here,” Zuckerberg and Chan wrote.

“But right now, we don’t always collectively direct our resources at the biggest opportunities and problems your generation will face.”

He said he will remain Facebook’s CEO for “many, many years to come, but these issues are too important to wait until you or we are older to begin this work”.

Chuck Feeney: The US billionaire set up Atlantic Philanthropies and has donated €800m to Irish universities and non-profit sectors.
Chuck Feeney: The US billionaire set up Atlantic Philanthropies and has donated €800m to Irish universities and non-profit sectors.

While Zuckerberg pegged the donation amount on the current value of his Facebook stock, the value of the gift could also grow.

Shares of Facebook have climbed more than 180% since their market debut in 2012, and 90% of analysts who cover the company have a buy rating on the stock, meaning they expect it to go up.

It’s unusual for an executive to undertake such a broad philanthropic effort at so young an age. Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway who has committed almost all of his fortune to charity, has singled out Zuckerberg as someone who can set an example for a new generation of philanthropists.

“He has an audience that’s just totally different than what I would have,” Buffett, 85, said last year at a conference in Las Vegas.

The Facebook co-founder previously signed the Giving Pledge, established by Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates, in which billionaires agree to donate the majority of their fortunes to charity.

Buffett, whose net worth is $64.2bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, decided to commit most of his Berkshire stock to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation when he was 75, after his the death of his first wife in 2004.

The Gates’s charitable foundation, now worth $41.3bn, has donated more than $34bn. There’s also one more thing in common with the philanthropic endeavors of Buffett, Gates and Zuckerberg: they reduce their tax bills, as the contributions are tax-deductible.

Mega-wealthy mega-doners

Mark Zuckerberg has joined a long list of the mega-rich who have pledged their fortunes to charities.

His $46bn (€43.5bn) donation could also help bolster the reputation of the technology community, which has faced criticism for driving up rents and exacerbating income inequality in Silicon Valley while valuations of companies there reach stratospheric levels.

Zuckerberg, 31, and his wife Priscilla Chan, already lauded for donating $1.5bn in Facebook stock to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF), are setting a high bar that is bringing more money to philanthropic endeavours.

Nicholas and Jill Woodman, the founders of GoPro, the wearable camera company, said last year they would give $500m to the SVCF. Jan Koum, a co-founder of message service WhatsApp, pledged more thanover $500m, also for the SVCF.

Sean Parker, an early Facebook executive and a founder of music-sharing service Napster, has committed $600m to his foundation, which has goals of improving civic engagement, public health, and life sciences.

Google’s Sergey Brin last year gave $383m to his family foundation, which supports causes such as eradicating poverty in the San Francisco region.

His co-founder, Larry Page, gave Google stock valued at $177m last year to a foundation named after his father, Carl Victor Page, that he started in 2006. It focuses on areas such as education and medicine.

Another tech titan with a sizable philanthropic streak is investor Yuri Milner, who bankrolls the annual Breakthrough Prizes, which awards $3m each to scientists. Earlier this year, Milner said he would spend $100m looking for intelligent life in space by searching for radio and light signals.

But so far, the most famous tech donor is Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who along with his wife Melinda, has given $30.7bn as of last year to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, known for work in poverty and healthcare.

Gates is a leading advocate of the Giving Pledge, a commitment made by billionaires to dedicate the majority of their wealth to charity.

Closer to home, Atlantic Philanthropies, set up by US billionaire Chuck Feeney, has donated €800m to the university and non-profit sectors in Ireland since 1988.

The One Foundation, set up by Declan Ryan, son of Ryanair founder Tony Ryan, is estimated to have donated more than €40m to charitable organisations. That funding stopped last year.

Both organisations make up 86% of philanthropic foundation money going to non-profit groups.

Tom Wilkinson

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