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Philanthropy and the Very Rich

This past summer, Peter Buffett’s piece in the New York Times about the so-called charitable-industrial complex was an unusual example of one of the class of super-rich taking his peers to task for their self-important, often ineffective approach to using a fraction of their wealth to do good. Too often their “feel-good” panaceas do not get at the root cause of society’s problems-problems often caused by the very inequity that their wealth has created in the first place.

Peter is not the only member of the remarkable Buffett family to take a different approach to philanthropy. His aunt Doris, now in her mid-eighties, gave away over a hundred million dollars, much of it directly to individuals who had had hard luck in life thereby eliminating the well-fed philanthropic middle men (and women) who siphon off so much of the charitable dollar. She does not approve of the philanthropic superstructure of intermediaries but likes giving money directly.  She also created education programs in prisons. Her story is told in the book Giving it All Away.

Recently, Doris created, along with her brother Warren (who himself gave away much of his fortune), what is described as “the first MOOC (massive open on-line course) in philanthropy.” Its intent, in part, was to teach young people about philanthropy. It looks like it was so popular it will be given again. Doris spares no sacred cows and tells it like it is. Watching the Buffetts and listening to them on the subject of philanthropy is certainly more interesting and more fun for me than reading foundation annual reports written by public relations consultants.

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