US billionaires gather to discuss giving

What do dozens of American billionaires talk about when
they get together? Their topic last week was of course money; not how to make
it, but how to give it away.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett said Friday that a
private gathering was a great chance for the billionaires who have pledged to
give away at least half their wealth to meet each other, compare notes, eat and
laugh.

The media was banned from Thursday’s first meeting of the
group that has accepted the giving challenge by Buffett and his friend
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. Since last June, 69 individuals or couples
have made the giving pledge.

Buffett knew only about 12 of the 61 people at the dinner
at the Miraval Resort in Tucson before the famously gregarious Berkshire
Hathaway CEO worked the room and made 40 new friends.

“They all more than fulfilled my expectations,”
Buffett told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation, said she was delighted by the openness of the virtual strangers. At
one point, conversation at her table drifted toward the biggest mistakes people
had ever made as philanthropists.

“One of the things about being a philanthropist, in
many ways it’s rather a lonely job,” said Tashia Morgridge, a retired special
education teacher.

She works with her husband, Cisco Systems chairman John
Morgridge, to give money to improve U.S. education through the Denver-based
Morgridge Family Foundation.

George Kaiser, a Tulsa, Okla., philanthropist who aids
early childhood education and social services programs, said the giving pledge
helps philanthropists who don’t want to just throw money at causes and instead
want to explore the best ways to invest money to tackle the world’s biggest
problems.

“Being able to share with other people who are
agonizing about the same decisions is extraordinarily useful,” said
Kaiser, the chairman of BOK Financial Corp who has been an oil and gas industry
executive for four decades. He led a session on applying analytical business
practices to philanthropy.

The goals of the organization do not include working
together to pool philanthropic dollars. Still, the meeting in Tucson that ended
Friday included sessions where different philanthropists shared their passion
to improve education, the environment and other causes.

Philosophies of giving and ideas for collaboration among
the billionaires were also shared throughout the event, said Jean Case, CEO of
the family foundation started by her and her husband, America Online founder
Steve Case.

“There’s a strong desire in this group to learn from
each other,” said Jean Case, who offered to host the event at their Tucson
resort after Melinda Gates talked to her about the possibility of the meeting.

The mother of five children also led a session on children
and families in philanthropy. Steve Case gave a talk on using social media to
encourage giving. All the sessions at the meeting were led by members of the
group.

Some common themes emerged from the event. The
participants are looking to do more impactful, more effective philanthropy and
to inspire average people to give money away, Jean Case said.

Sharing ideas about giving also took place informally.
Melinda Gates said she talked to two people who were devoting money for work on
state pension issues and criminal justice — problems Gates had previously not
thought about.

Chuck Feeney, a New Jersey philanthropist Buffett called
the spiritual leader of the group, spoke about his plans to give all his money
to charity.

“He wants his last check to bounce,” Buffett
said.

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