by Patricia Sellers
You thought that peer pressure ended in high school?
Not so. This is the method that Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates are using to challenge America's billionaires.
This morning, Fortune broke the story that Buffett and the Gateses (MSFT) are calling on the other wealthiest in the land to give half of their personal net worth to charity. "The biggest fundraising drive in history" is what my colleague, Carol Loomis, calls the challenge.
The mega-idea, as Carol explains in her story, was born at a May 2009 dinner in New York City. The dinner included David Rockefeller, Oprah Winfrey, Ted Turner, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and led to dinners in other cities, where group-think fueled other billionaires to reconsider the final destination of their wealth.
"You could tell the people who were still kind of on the cusp of thinking about how they were going to do this," Melinda told Carol. Melinda actually missed the first dinner but made the other two, in New York and Silicon Valley. Of her dinner companions, she said, "They were like, 'Yeah, okay. I've been kind of thinking in this direction. I knew I was going to get around to it. But wow!'
"And so, learning from others in the group, you could see the power of the idea starting to gel with them."
Wives were essential to get traction, says Melinda, who insisted that they be included in the dinners. "Even if he's the one that made the money, she's going to be a real gatekeeper. And she's got to go along with any philanthropic plan, because it affects her and it affects their kids."
"It was really neat to hear in a few cases how the men let the women kind of move them," she added.
It was a cache of California couples -- the John Doerrs, the Eli Broads, and the John Morgridges, whose billions come from Cisco (CSCO) -- who vowed early on to give at least 50% to charity. And in so doing, they are pressuring others to be "Great Givers," as Buffett decided to call them.
As for the importance of the women, Buffett told me, back when I interviewed him for a Melinda Gates cover story in 2008, that he might not have given his wealth to the Gates Foundation if it weren't for Melinda. Today, again, Bill's other half plays the critical role of pragmatic doer.
"One of the things I adore about Bill and Warren is," Melinda told Carol, "having a big idea but saying we don't exactly know how to execute it." As she says, "It takes some people to make it happen. So I help manage those pieces. And I enjoy that."
She led the design and creation of the website givingpledge.org, which went up this morning. Now Melinda Gates hopes that the spirit of largess -- really big giving -- spreads beyond the super-rich.
"My hope for this is that it takes on this momentum not only with the billionaires but that it expands out," she says, noting that young people she meets in colleges and grad schools say they want to give back to society.
"I do think there's a crowd mentality," she adds. "It becomes the right thing to do. And so, more will because others are doing it."
by Jessica Shambora
On Wednesday morning, when I attended The Bridgespan Group's panel on emerging trends in philanthropy, I expected a bleak report.
After all, with public and private sector funds drying up, non-profit managers all around are fretting about budgets. Large foundations lost nearly one-third of their assets last year, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy. And Paul Light, an NYU professor of public service, predicts that 100,000 non-profits will be MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Feb 26, 2009 3:09 PM ET
"We like difficult."
- Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, explaining why she and her husband -- who is no longer full-time at Microsoft (MSFT) -- chose to tackle the world's most intractable problems. These problems include U.S. education. Click here to watch a video highlight of my interview with Melinda Gates last week at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit. She and Bill initially were "naive," MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 8, 2008 11:54 PM ET
What a wrapup this morning at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit. I interviewed Melinda Gates -- with Warren Buffett watching from the front row. Buffett was flanked by his daughter, Susie, and his daughter-in-law, Jennifer, both of whom are powerful philanthropists in their own right.
It was fascinating to have Melinda Gates talk about her heady missions -- find an AIDS vaccine, eradicate malaria, reform U.S. education, bring a Green Revolution to Africa MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 3, 2008 5:25 PM ET
"I think every foundation would probably be better off if they took on a narrower set of things and they took them on in a deeper way and a longer-term way. What you're providing is not just money. You're providing a voice. You're providing expertise. You're creating jobs. And when you first get into an area, you're naïve. You make mistakes."
--Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Sep 25, 2008 4:01 PM ET
|The Winklevoss twins are Bitcoin bulls|
|Stocks on a roll: Yahoo, Microsoft stoke appetite|
|My very cheap day|
|Prison exclusive: Bernie Madoff can't sleep|