How to Give Like Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett is a rich but also generous guy. How can you give as effectively even if you’re not a billionaire?

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Q: What’s more incredible than billionaire Warren Buffett’s fortune?
A: How much of it he gives away to others.

July 2017 saw the investing legend take another step toward his stated goal of giving away the bulk of his US$70 billion or so in wealth. Buffett donated roughly US$3.17 billion of his Berkshire Hathaway stock, with most of that – US$2.42 billion – going to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

He’s just one of several wealthy business people who have said that they’re going to donate most of their money to charity. The Gateses, Michael Bloomberg, and Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have all pledged to do the same.

“They’re interesting role models for people to look at and be inspired by,” says Michael Alberg-Seberich, managing director at Beyond Philanthropy, which advises companies and individuals on their giving strategies.

Those of us who aren’t billionaires may think that giving like Buffett and Gates is impossible to do. But that’s not so, says Alberg-Seberich. Here’s how you too can give like the ultra-wealthy.

Get focused

Even if you don’t have billions to part with, you can have a sizable impact if you specialize. Gates, for instance, has focused much of his giving on providing better health care for underprivileged people. He wants to wipe out malaria, for instance.

Find a cause that means a lot to you and commit to it. That’s what J. Anthony Boeckh and his family did after his son, Graham, passed away due to complications related to schizophrenia. Since its inception in 1990, the Graham Boeckh Foundation has become known all over the world for funding research on youth mental illness.

“They have a staff of just two or three,” says Alberg-Seberich, “but they’re focused, and they’ve pursued one issue over a long time.”

Starting your own foundation is a big undertaking. It is generally only feasible if you have, in most cases, $50,000 or more per year to work with. Those who don’t want to start a foundation, but still want to control where their money goes, can do similar work through a donor-advised fund.

Collaborate

While every donation dollar counts, if you want to give a more sizable gift, consider pooling your resources with other smaller donors.

“In Canada, there’s a high density of community foundations,” he says. Funders get together to discuss a specific cause, share experiences and give collectively. The giving threshold is lower because you’re combining resources. Depending on the group, you may be able to come in with $100,000 or more.

“You can just get together around your dinner table,” he explains. “Or you give it a fund structure, so it can be a donor-advised fund within a foundation or sometimes within a financial institution.”

If it’s hard to decide on a cause but you know a more experienced philanthropist, giving to their foundation might be a safe bet. Buffett works with the Gateses because of their exceptional track record on global health and poverty.

Find your own Bill and Melinda

If it’s hard to decide on a cause but you know a more experienced philanthropist, giving to their foundation might be a safe bet. Buffett works with the Gateses because of their exceptional track record on global health and poverty.

Whenever he gives to them, says Alberg-Seberich, he always says something like, “Bill and Melinda are people I trust.”

Some foundations may even match your donation. Or, if the gift is sizable enough, you can say that you’ll only give if the payment is matched. “I give you $10,000 or $20,000, but I only give it to you if you can match it with another $20,000,” says Alberg-Seberich. “It’s a very common practice in Canada.”

High-impact giving is possible, even if you’re not a billionaire. Use the business or career smarts that helped you build a nest egg in the first place to strategize. But there’s nothing wrong with following your heart, too, when you’re giving to make a difference.

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