The Christmas Saints of Wall Street

There's something about the twinkling lights, tinsel and presents that sparks a change in people – not the same change as a nice eggnog with twice the rum, but it's close. At Christmas, people are happier and more generous than usual. Charities receive more donations in December than any other month. Network for Good claims that 29 to 31 percent of all donations in a given year on its platform occur in December. People who habitually run to the office with their collars up and their eyes straight ahead are more likely to drop their change into an outstretched hand or into a donation jar. Strangers exchange greetings instead of suspicious glances: that's the spirit of the holidays.

This Christmas season, we'll be looking at some people whose Christmas spirit doesn't go away when the pine needles fall. They may not be in the same league as old Saint Nick, but they're not far off.

Key takeaways

  • There has long been a tradition of successful business moguls turning a philanthropic eye toward holiday giving.
  • In the 19th century, captains of industry like Rockefeller and Carnegie were noted for their charitable giving.
  • More recently, billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have continued the tradition of philanthropy to make the world a better place.

The old guard

Philanthropy on Wall Street is not a recent event. The original saints of Wall Street can still be felt as you scan a list of libraries, hospitals, foundations, research centers, women's shelters and other projects aimed at helping the less fortunate. If you do this, you will find that some names appear more often than others.

Steel, oil and cars

The old guard, consisting of Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew W. Mellon, and Henry Ford, all made their fortunes in oil, steel, or a combination of the two, cars, ships, and so on. men late in life, and it is sometimes said that much of their philanthropy consisted of returning the money they earned by crushing unions and creating unjust monopolies.

While there is some truth to these claims, it is also true that most of what we in retrospect call unsavory business practices were commonplace in their time and certainly have similar precedents today. Carnegie, Rockefeller, Mellon and Ford's dedication to education, medical care and the fight against poverty set them apart at a time when the world's richest people hoarded their money within their families. These men and the foundations they left behind gave billions of dollars to improve life in America.

The next generation

While the philanthropists of the past were based in heavy industry, the next generation is largely made up of tech barons and stock market gurus. Here are some members of the new generation of philanthropists:

Bill and Melinda Gates

Bill and Melinda Gates top the list of next-generation philanthropists. America's sixth-richest man and his ex-wife have left Microsoft behind to focus on dispersing their fortune. Through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, they transfer their wealth to projects including medical care and education in developing countries, as well as to a number of domestic charities. The foundation, with its endowment of $67.3 billion at the end of 2022, is the largest national charity and the second largest internationally.

Bill and Melinda Gates tackled the most common and widespread problems in the world. They estimate that while AIDS and cancer kill large proportions of the population of developed countries, many more deaths result from preventable diseases such as acute diarrhea and tuberculosis, which often affect children. Gates Foundation grants for vaccine research provide an incentive to address these common problems. They also contribute to the search for new cures and treatments for these and other diseases. Additionally, the foundation works in the area of ​​economic development and opportunity.

Warren Buffett

The Oracle of Omaha pledged 85 percent of his shares in Berkshire Hathaway, which were worth a total of $37.4 billion at the time of his 2006 pledge to charity, with the majority going to the Foundation Bill & Melinda Gates. Shares are donated over an extended period of time, with Berkshire's price on the date of each donation determining the exact dollar value.

Warren Buffett has also pledged to give away 99% of his total personal wealth and make significant donations to various charities in addition to the Gates Foundation, including those run by his children and a foundation started by his late wife Susan. His total donations in recent years, the bulk of which go to the Gates Foundation on an annual basis, including $3.4 billion in Berkshire Hathaway stock in 2018 and $3.6 billion in 2019.

Gates and Buffett also teamed up to create the Make a donationa charitable initiative that encourages billionaires to give away the majority of their wealth. The effort attracted more than 200 donors, including one of the tech industry's most famous multibillionaires, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Gordon and Betty Moore

Gordon Moore was one of the co-founders of Intel Corporation. He established the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in 2000 with a donation of his Intel stock, worth more than $5 billion at the time. Along with his wife Betty, he has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to three major causes: science, environmental conservation (with an emphasis on marine life), and medicine.

The Moores funded training programs for nurses in hopes of preventing common medical errors. They also contributed generously to the improvement of secondary education. The foundation has made significant commitments to support physics research and is the primary source of financial support for the construction of a 30-meter telescope, scheduled for completion by the end of this decade.

Michael and Susan Dell

Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computers, and his wife Susan have increased their involvement in philanthropy each year since Michael stepped down as CEO in July 2004, leaving behind a profitable company through which he amassed a significant personal fortune. Having four children, the Dells used their wealth to advance children's causes (health, education and medicine). The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation was established in 1999 and has awarded grants of more than $2.3 billion.

George Soros

George Soros made his money on the financial markets. His philanthropy began in the 1970s, when he helped students attend college in apartheid South Africa. Since then, Soros has continued to realize his dream of an open society. His foundation, called the Open Society Foundations, distributes about $500 million a year to support liberal causes around the world.

Although his views are sometimes considered controversial, such as his opposition to the war on drugs, Soros has had a significant impact on international affairs. He was part of the puzzle that helped the “Rose Revolution” overthrow a corrupt government in Georgia and had some influence on the “Orange Revolution” that toppled the Soviet-friendly Ukrainian government in 2004 (although the repeat remains a problem in both cases). ).

His involvement in these causes is linked to his own experiences with repressive regimes. He lived through the Nazi invasion of Hungary and saw his country “liberated” by the Soviets, after which he fled at the age of 15. Soros has donated more than $18 billion to charities around the world.

The essential

Charity is a personal thing. Some people give to a particular cause because of past experiences. Others give to general causes in hopes of improving the world from the bottom up. Although the people we've detailed here stand out for the scale of their donations, most of their money was distributed through charitable foundations.

Although their donations dwarf what the average person can afford to give, individuals' collective donations are consistently cited by charities as accounting for the bulk of all charitable giving. So while you can't top the mega-donations provided by some of the wealthiest charitable benefactors, the few dollars you pass on to charity really matter. With that in mind, celebrate the season of giving by sharing a little of your prosperity with the people, animals, and causes that truly need your support.

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