Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and the Billionaire Giving Pledge

Some 40 philanthropists worth a combined $230 billion are publicly pledging to give away their fortunes. Donors talk to Benjamin Sarlin about the secret meeting that started the movement—and the pact’s surprising absences.

Matt Sayles / AP Photo

Matt Sayles / AP Photo

Warren Buffett

Field: Investments, Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
Net worth: $47 billion

Why he gave: "My wealth has come from a combination of living in America, some lucky genes, and compound interest…The reaction of my family and me to our extraordinary good fortune is not guilt, but rather gratitude. Were we to use more than 1 percent of my claim checks on ourselves, neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced. In contrast, that remaining 99 percent can have a huge effect on the health and welfare of others. That reality sets an obvious course for me and my family: Keep all we can conceivably need and distribute the rest to society, for its needs."

Matthew Staver, Bloomberg News / Getty Images

Bill and Melinda Gates

Field: Technology, Microsoft
Net worth: $53 billion

Why they gave: "Years ago, when we began to learn about global health, we were especially shocked to read that one highly preventable disease—rotavirus—was killing half a million children every year…We have committed the vast majority of our assets to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help stop preventable deaths such as these, and to tear down other barriers to health and education that prevent people from making the very most of their lives."

Tina Paul, Camera Press / Retna Ltd.

Barry Diller & Diane Von Furstenberg

Field: Digital media, IAC/InterActiveCorp
Net worth: $1.15 billion

AP Photo

Paul Allen

Field: Technology, Microsoft
Net worth: $13.5 billion

Why he gave: "There are many challenges, both here in the Northwest and around the world, that I know will keep us broadening our reach and looking for ways to help… I've planned for many years now that the majority of my estate will be left to philanthropy to continue the work of the foundation and to fund nonprofit scientific research, like the groundbreaking work being done at the Allen Institute for Brain Science."

AP Photo

Larry Ellison

Field: Technology, Oracle
Net worth: $28 billion

Why he gave: "I have already given hundreds of millions of dollars to medical research and education, and I will give billions more over time. Until now, I have done this giving quietly—because I have long believed that charitable giving is a personal and private matter. So why am I going public now? Warren Buffett personally asked me to write this letter because he said I would be 'setting an example' and 'influencing others' to give."

Arash Radpour / AP Photo

George Lucas

Field: Film, Star Wars
Net worth: $3 billion

Why he gave: "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. As humans, our greatest tool for survival is our ability to think and to adapt—as educators, storytellers, and communicators our responsibility is to continue to do so."

AP Photo

T. Boone Pickens

Field: Oil and gas, investments
Net worth: $1.15 billion

Why he gave: "I've long stated that I enjoy making money, and I enjoy giving it away. I like making money more, but giving it away is a close second. To date, I've given away nearly $800 million to a wide range of charitable organizations, and I look forward to the day I hit the $1 billion mark. I'm not a big fan of inherited wealth. It generally does more harm than good."

Jemal Countess, WireImages / Getty Images

Michael Bloomberg

Field: Investments, Bloomberg LP
Net worth: $18 billion

Why he gave: "In my third career, as mayor of New York, I've seen just how needed—and how powerful—private donations are. Public-private partnerships are at the heart of our efforts to improve public health and safety, fight poverty, fix a once-broken school system, expand economic opportunity, promote the arts, protect our environment, and so much more."