America's Wealthy Step Up to the Plate

Arthur M. Blank
Arthur M. Blank

This month, 12 more billionaire families committed to donate at least half of their wealth to charity by taking the Giving Pledge. The Giving Pledge, initiated by Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-B) and Bill and Melinda Gates of Microsoft (MSFT), aims to increase charitable giving and inspire active discussions about philanthropy. So far, 81 billionaire families from a wide variety of backgrounds and age groups have made a Giving Pledge commitment.

Each family has its own pet projects in areas including education, public health, social services, and environmental sustainability. But there is a common theme in the motivations of many donors: They hope to help close the income gap by ensuring others have the resources and opportunities needed to succeed.

New signatories, along with the businesses to which they owe much of their success, are:

  • Bill and Karen Ackman -- Pershing Square

  • Steve Bing -- Shangri-La Industries

  • Arthur M. Blank -- Home Depot (HD)

  • Edgar M. Bronfman -- Seagram Co.

  • Glenn and Eva Dubin -- Highbridge Capital Management

  • Red and Charline McCombs -- Red McCombs Automotive Group

  • Michael Moritz and Harriet Heyman -- Sequoia Capital

  • Elon Musk -- Tesla Motors (TSLA)

  • John and Ginger Sall -- SAS Institute

  • Henry and Susan Samueli -- Broadcom (BRCM)

  • John A. and Susan Sobrato, John Michael Sobrato -- Sobrato Development Companies

  • Ted and Vada Stanley -- MBI

Let's take a closer look at three of the new recruits and their plans for investing in your future.

Arthur Blank's Attempt to Narrow the Income Gap

Arthur Blank established the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, which is involved in many charitable causes in his home state of Georgia, especially ones that promote conditions that will allow children to flourish. The foundation's projects include:

  • The fight against childhood obesity

  • Advocacy for increased investment in early childhood education

  • Testing education reforms

  • Promoting greater access to the arts among all people

His letter states: "The needs in our society are more profound than at any point in my lifetime. The gap between rich and poor in America is growing." To help address this issue, Blank's foundation focuses on providing all people -- regardless of class -- with greater opportunities to improve their bodies and minds.

Henry and Susan Samueli's Work Toward Equal Opportunity

Henry Samueli expressed a commitment to the following three causes:

  • Promoting improved education from kindergarten to the university level in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

  • Promoting wellness by supporting research efforts in integrative medicine.

  • Promoting religious tolerance and contributing to efforts to maintain a strong Jewish culture.

Samueli's letter expressed a "commitment to continue in our efforts to promote change that we believe will provide people less fortunate than us with opportunities to more fully realize their potential."

The Sobrato Family Is Giving Their All -- Literally!

John, Susan, and John Michael Sobrato pledged to donate 100% of their wealth during their lifetimes or upon their deaths. They expressed concern that, despite the growth of wealth in Silicon Valley, "the disparity between the rich and poor is dramatic and growing" and that "[m]any people don't have the needed skills and education to succeed in today's economy or have other challenges that hold them back."

To address this disparity, the family has spent time, energy, and money to promote better access to education and health care among the less fortunate in Silicon Valley. Their foundation currently offers free office space and operating support to effective nonprofit organizations that serve the area's needy.

Luck + Work = Billions

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In making their donations, each of these families suggested that their fortune came with a bit of luck (in addition to their hard work). They say they were lucky to be born without mental or physical disabilities, to have access to a good education that helped them learn new skills, and to have opportunities to use the skills they already have. Many of these donors believe these factors were not completely under their control. This belief has led them to devote a substantial portion of their wealth to invest in others by providing them with the resources they need to succeed and flourish.

Motley Fool contributor M. Joy Hayes, Ph.D., is the principal at ethics consulting firm Courageous Ethics. She owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and Microsoft. Follow @JoyofEthics on Twitter. The Motley Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Tesla Motors, Microsoft, Home Depot, and Berkshire Hathaway, as well as creating a bull call spread position in Microsoft.

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