There's nothing like a little prodding from Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to get rich people to part with their money—or half of it, at least. The pair has convinced over 30 of their fellow billionaires (and a handful of other millionaires) to sign the Giving Pledge, described on the pledge's website as "an effort to help address society’s most pressing problems by inviting the wealthiest American families and individuals to commit to giving more than half of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes."
Many of the pledge-signers are well-known. T. Boone Pickens, Jeff Skoll, George Lucas, Barron Hilton, David Rockefeller, and Michael Bloomberg are just some of the big names roped into the project. Of course, it's not as if each person on the list will simply give away half of their cash on an appointed date. Each pledge-signer has a unique plan, as detailed in their individual pledges (available here).
Barron Hilton's plan focuses on faith:
As one of Hilton’s principal shareholders, I decided to immediately pledge my proceeds of the sales—$1.2 billion—to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. In making the gift, I also pledged to follow my father’s example and donate 97 percent of my wealth to the Hilton Foundation. Today we concentrate on a few strategic initiatives: Safe water development, homelessness, children, substance abuse and Catholic sisters. We are constantly reviewing our practices while remaining faithful to the values and principles that guide us.
And George Lucas is giving his cash to educational initiatives:
My pledge is to the process; as long as I have the resources at my disposal, I will seek to raise the bar for future generations of students of all ages. I am dedicating the majority of my wealth to improving education. It is the key to the survival of the human race. We have to plan for our collective future – and the first step begins with the social, emotional, and intellectual tools we provide to our children.
Many of these wealthy folks planned to give away most of their cash even before they signed the pledge. Larry Ellison makes a point of claiming that he planned to give away 95% of his wealth years ago, and is only now going public with his charitable deeds. And of course, the real motives of other signers can be questioned: having enough money to make it onto the pledge list is a status symbol in and of itself. Nevertheless, this is impressive stuff. If this pledge kick-starts even a few more multi-billion dollar initiatives, it will be worth it. Peer pressure can be a good thing after all.