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Leadership

Preserving the Gift of Giving

Americans donated $304 billion in 2009, down 3.6%, and this year some are pledging more. We spoke to seven philanthropists of all different incomes, from billionaires promising half their wealth via Bill Gates and Warren Buffett's Giving Pledge, to regular folks earmarking a slice of their salaries.

Pierre and Pam Omidyar
"People everywhere are inherrently capable, but what they lack is equal opportunity," says eBay's founder, Pierre, 43, who joined the Giving Pledge with his wife, the chair of HopeLab. "We made this pledge to help build opportunity." A total of $92 million went to causes ranging from solar lanterns in India to sustainability efforts in Hawaii.

J. Ronald and Frances Terwilliger
When choosing a not-for-profit to receive $102 million, the couple looked to Ron's childhood: "I come from a very modest, working-class family in Virginia," says Ron, 69, CEO of Trammel Crow Residential. "We lived in a small, 800-square-foot, three-bedroom, one-bath house — kind of like what Habitat for Humanity builds."

Jennifer McDonald
You may not have big bucks, but that doesn't mean you can't emulate the wealthy's generosity, says the director of the One Percent Club. Members, who pledge 1% of their net worths and have given $100 million since 1999, applaud anonymity above recognition — meaning McDonald, 44, is mum on which causes benefitted from her pledge.

David Taus
Taus, 31, began tutoring as a teen and quickly learned "how hard it is to work at places that are really underfunded but well-meaning. I realized money does make it work," says the director of education at Tutorpedia. "Just because I'm not a billionaire doesn't mean I'm not interested in philanthropy." His latest gift: $35 to the San Francisco Bike Coalition.

Aimee Gromfin
September 11 sparked Gromfin's first donation, and eventually led her to the One Percent Foundation, for young donors who pool 1% of salaries to effect change. "My husband and I make a decent living," Gromfin, 34, says. "Giving is something we want to do, because we feel like it's either that or go to Disneyland one more time."

 

A version of this article appeared in the November 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.