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Buffett And Gates Issue Challenge to Fellow Billionaires to Pledge Half their Fortunes

Wednesday, 16 Jun 2010 | 10:40 AM ET
FORTUNE shot Bill Gates and Warren Buffett at the Hollywood Diner in Omaha, where they discussed their plans to raise giving.
Mark Peterson | Redux Pictures
FORTUNE shot Bill Gates and Warren Buffett at the Hollywood Diner in Omaha, where they discussed their plans to raise giving.

We now know a lot more about that mysterious meeting in New York last year as billionaires from around the nation, including Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, gathered for a quiet dinner in New York.

The topic was not, as some suspicious people half-jokingly suggested, world domination.

Fortune Magazines Carol Loomis reports in a cover story today that it was the beginning of what has turned into a $600 Billion Challenge.

Buffett, along with Bill and Melinda Gates, want Americans to give away more of their wealth to charities, and they’re starting with their fellow billionaires.

Loomis writes, "They are driving to get the super-rich, starting with the Forbes list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, to pledge - literally pledge - at least 50% of their net worth to charity during their lifetimes or at death."

She calls that dinner in Manhattan the start of "what can be called the biggest fundraising drive in history."

While the Forbes list is not entirely accurate, it is the best look we have at just how much money the super-rich have accumulated. Fifty percent of the $1.2 trillion in estimated net worth of the Forbes 400 would be $600 billion.

Fortune Magazine
Source: Fortune Magazine
Fortune Magazine

Gates tells Fortune that 50 percent is a "low bar" designed to encourage participation.

Buffett's own written promise, printed by Fortune for the first time, reads:

"My pledge: More than 99% of my wealth will go to philanthropy during my lifetime or at death ... (My family and I will) keep all we can conceivable need and distribute the rest to society, for its needs."

Several billionaires have already made the 50 percent pledge, and the rest of the Forbes 400 can expect to hear from Buffett or Gates soon.

Loomis writes that Bill and Melinda credit Buffett with the "basic idea" of spreading the philanthropic "gospel" to others, but they arranged that first dinner in New York. As Gates jokingly points out, "If you had to depend on Warren Buffett to organize this dinner, it might never have happened."

Thanks to the Hotel San Gallo in Venice for letting me use their office Internet connection to write this post. Ciao!

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