I was at a recent event where Brett Wilson – the Calgary entrepreneur, former investment banker and CBC Dragons’ Den personality – spoke about philanthropy. He criticized Bill Gates and Warren Buffett for setting their Giving Pledge target of 50 percent of net worth too low. Giving half of one’s estate is not enough if you are very wealthy, said Wilson.
Brett Wilson knows a few things about giving and wealth. His objections are sound: affluenza can be a debilitating disease to those who inherit serious wealth. But he is missing a key point about philanthropy that Gates and Buffett get. Regardless of your level of wealth, asset-based philanthropy should be implemented free of public pressure.
It’s natural to have expectations for those who are wealthier about how they “should” deploy their riches. But this kind of decision is personal and takes years of careful, private consideration. Philanthropy is different than taxes. Gates and Buffett know this and hence have set the bar high enough to be bold, and yet vague enough to enable private reflection and action.
Wilson also said that Gates and Buffett should be applauded for putting the philanthropic dialogue into the mainstream. He’s right. When internal reflection and external examples are combined with good planning significant philanthropy will flourish.