He might boast the year’s biggest financial gains on the 2015 Forbes Billionaires List, but the third richest man in the world didn’t get there by hoarding his profits. Instead, Warren Buffett is lauded as one of the most philanthropic men on the planet. Along with Bill and Melinda Gates, he was behind the creation five years ago of the Giving Pledge, an initiative that encourages billionaires to give at least half of their money to charitable causes.
The Warren Buffett philanthropy philosophy doesn’t include micromanagement — nor does it include extravagantly feathering his children’s nests. “I don’t believe in dynastic wealth,” he famously told The New York Times in 2006.
Of course, charitable giving doesn’t require great wealth. Individuals with ordinary incomes play an enormously important role. Last year, the largest source of charitable giving came from individuals. They donated $258.51 billion, or 72 percent of total contributions, according to the National Philanthropic Trust, a charity that provides philanthropic advice to donors.
As for Buffett, the billionaire has pledged to give away as much as 99 percent of his wealth to charity, much of that going to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The rest is pledged to family-related charities — the foundation named after his late first wife and the foundations he instructed his three children to create according to their interests. Through their charitable efforts, Buffett’s money supports improving the lives of children, access to education, health and economic development, community services and reducing nuclear threat.
Buffett’s annual charitable gifts make big news every year. This year’s donation was bigger than ever: $2.8 billion worth of Berkshire Hathaway stock to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, $215 million to the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation and $150 million each to the foundations run by his three children.
Buffett offered some advice in a 2006 letter to his son Peter Buffett, which said in part: “Concentrate your resources on needs that would not be met without your efforts. Pay attention to your home community but favor a broader view. Judge programs by how they fit with your goals and their chances for success, not by who makes the request. Expect to make some mistakes; nothing important will be accomplished if you make only safe decisions.”
His children’s foundations support large-scale philanthropic missions and do not solicit or accept donations from the public.
1. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Buffett is a foundation trustee for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a relationship he solidified with his gift of 10 million shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock. The gift, being paid in annual installments, was worth about $31 billion when it was made in June 2006.
The foundation seeks to improve health care and reduce hunger and poverty on a global scale and also in communities throughout Washington state, its headquarters. Its international health initiatives have brought vaccines, diagnostics and medicine to disadvantaged people all over the world.
Also renowned for its education programs, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation focuses on ensuring that American high school students are prepared for success at the college level and have access to post-secondary degrees with labor-market value.
In total, the foundation has made $33.5 billion in grant payments since its inception. It currently manages a trust endowment of $42.9 billion.
2. NoVo Foundation
Peter and Jennifer Buffett’s NoVo Foundation seeks to empower adolescent girls and end violence against women. The group offers a unique voice for advancing adolescent girls’ rights, ending violence against girls and women, advancing social and emotional learning and promoting local economies.
The foundation has chosen to work closely with experts, thought leaders and grassroots-level workers to guide its funding choices. The NoVo Foundation’s ultimate goal is not to alleviate injustices but to eliminate them.
3. The Howard G. Buffett Foundation
The Howard G. Buffett Foundation strives to eliminate hunger across the U.S. and around the globe. Howard Buffett, a Nebraska farmer, directs his foundation to work both nationally and internationally on food and water security, conflict mitigation and endangered mammal conservation.
The foundation focuses its food security programs in Africa and in Central America, and domestically, on conservation-based farming systems and hunger relief. It supports work to secure and sustain agricultural water needs to support the world’s expanding population. With an investment of nearly $100 million in Africa’s Great Lakes region, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation aims to support conservation, agriculture and economic development.
It also supports local community public safety workers, particularly all-volunteer fire departments and sheriff’s offices, in areas of Illinois, Arizona and Nebraska.
4. The Sherwood Foundation
The Buffett family’s philanthropic efforts often center on the Nebraska communities where they grew up, and Susan Buffett’s Sherwood Foundation is no different. The Sherwood Foundation takes aim at improving the quality of life for Nebraska residents through work with urban community partnerships, Omaha public schools, rural community partnerships and early childhood education.
The foundation limits its grants to nonprofit government, school or religious organizations serving Nebraska communities.
5. The Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation
The Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, which Buffett created with his late first wife, works exclusively to provide support to deserving teachers and college students via the Alice Buffett Outstanding Teacher Award for Omaha public school teachers and college scholarships for Nebraska students.
Buffett has specified in his will that any Berkshire Hathaway stock he hasn’t already pledged to charity when he dies will go to The Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation.
How Much Is Warren Buffett Worth?
Buffett is the very definition of the American self-made man. He purchased the Omaha textiles company Berkshire Hathaway in 1962. Over the years, he has shaped it into a conglomerate with more than 80 subsidiaries, including companies in insurance, manufacturing, railroads, utilities, furniture, restaurants and more.
His renowned business acumen has guided the holding company’s investments in companies like Wells Fargo, Coca-Cola and IBM. Berkshire Hathaway growth continues with its acquisition of Precision Castparts in August 2015 for $32 billion.
Buffett’s net worth total is around $61.5 billion, making him the world’s third richest man and the second richest in America. In fact, his net worth is larger than the gross domestic product of 15 countries.
The Warren Buffett portfolio rests on the remarkable success of Berkshire Hathaway, with its prestigious Class A stock now standing at around $200,000 per share. In early 2015, its $355 billion market capitalization placed it as the fourth most valuable public company in the country.