DSC_0392-color

Who Really Benefits When Billionaires Give Away their Wealth?


Aaron Dorfman frequently criticizes wealthy donors, saying they tend to overlook causes that help the poor and disenfranchised. “There’s this mistaken notion that every kind of giving is good, but I really don’t think that’s true,” he tells us.

Dorfman has been watching giving trends for nearly a decade as head of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. As a result, he’s skeptical of the much lauded Giving Pledge, an effort by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to get billionaires to donate more than half their wealth to charity. “It’s only about giving it away for something,” he says. “But the ‘for what’ has not been part of the Giving Pledge, and that’s a big concern.”

Despite society’s urgent needs, Dorfman finds that big donors don’t tend to address them. “Generally speaking, the rich give to things that benefit themselves and their social standing” like giving to their alma maters, hospitals and mainstream art institutions. If a donor or foundation really wants to move the needle on social issues, Dorfman says they must do more to support grassroots organizations. But he acknowledges that’s unlikely to happen among new philanthropists who embrace lean business principles and tend to have small staffs. “What happens when you try to give away millions and millions of dollars with very few staff is you can’t possibly give grants to smaller organizations. And it disadvantages grassroots groups that are touching lives in communities all over the country.”

Additional Resources

National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy on Twitter

Dorfman explains his skepticism about the Giving Pledge on the Huffington Post, in part I and part II.

Chronicle of Philanthropy: Giving Pledge Signers Gave Big in 2013 but Not Much for Today’s Needs

Bloomberg: Pledge Aside, Dead Billionaires Don’t Have to Give Away Half Their Fortune

Related Tiny Spark podcasts:

Is Philanthropy Fueling Wealth Inequality?

Occupy Charity: Big Money in Few Hands

Why Do Billions of Charitable Dollars Sit in Banks?

Featured image: Aaron Dorfman (courtesy of National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy)

1 Comment

  1. Maron

    I’m late in learning about this podcast series, but what I’ve listened to so far has been really wonderful. The topics covered, especially this podcast in particular, highlights the type of discussion that I think is really missing in the philanthropy discussions I’ve heard. One question that comes to mind is “how do we influence foundations to put more resources into addressing the core inequalities of society than they have typically done in the past?” Maybe I need to do more research on NCRPs Philamplify efforts, but I am open to any other suggestions.

Leave a Comment