* Pressure on the rich to become involved in philanthropy
* Buffett, Gates Giving Pledge could spark broader trend
By Michelle Nichols
NEW YORK, Aug 11 As dozens of U.S. billionaires
pledge their fortunes to charity and the country struggles to
shake off recession, philanthropy is a growing status symbol of
the rich, experts say.
Being wealthy may no longer be about how many properties or
fast cars a millionaire owns -- it could be about how much
money they are giving away -- bringing hope to charities that
Warren Buffett and Bill Gates' philanthropic push inspires
"It will be something that's very important to the wealthy
-- to be able to say: 'I give my money away as much as I spend
it in all these other exciting ways,'" said Stacy Palmer,
editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
"Clearly pressure on the elite is high right now to say
that they are giving money away and that will make it trendy,"
she said. "People who have enough money to give away but maybe
haven't thought about that ... those folks will want to do what
Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are doing."
Investor Buffett and Microsoft (MSFT.O) founder Gates are
urging American billionaires to give away at least half their
wealth during their lifetime or upon their death by signing the
Giving Pledge, which so far has 40 members.
While experts in philanthropy say recognition is not a key
motivation for people to give, some say it would not be a bad
thing if philanthropy became a greater badge of honor among the
"It would be naive to think that nobody cares about the
attention because otherwise there wouldn't be any names on
buildings," said Patrick Rooney, executive director of the
Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.
"But it would not be a terrible thing if philanthropy
became a more important status symbol than the car you drive or
the street address and how many square feet you live in or how
many residences you own," he said.
Based on Forbes magazine's estimates of the wealth of the
40 members of the Giving Pledge, at least $150 billion could be
given away. Gates and Buffett are the second and third richest
people in the world, behind Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, with
fortunes of $53 billion and $47 billion respectively.
GIVING BY RICH AN EXPECTATION
The true measure of the wealthy should be their generosity,
said Bradford Smith, president of the Foundation Center.
"If philanthropy is indeed becoming the new status symbol
of the wealthy it will do a lot more to change the world than
buying Gucci bags," he said.
But Paul Schervish, director of the Center on Wealth and
Philanthropy at Boston College, said it was important that
philanthropy as a status symbol was just a reflection of giving
and not a motivation.
"Philanthropy is becoming a regular part of the financial
life of wealth holders in a substantial way," he said, adding
that anything that is the right thing to do morally can become
But, he cautioned, the risk is that if giving is seen as
the purview of the rich then it may devalue charity endeavors
of regular Americans.
Individual Americans gave more than $227 billion in 2009,
according to a the Giving USA report by the Center on
Philanthropy at Indiana University, down just 0.4 percent from
the previous year despite the U.S. recession.
Melissa Berman, president and chief executive of
Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, said there was a growing
expectation on wealthy families to not only give their money
away but be actively involved in their philanthropy.
"(The Giving Pledge) is going to have a tremendous impact
and it's impact may be greater outside the United States ...
because (China and India) are countries where there is less of
a tradition of that kind of scale of philanthropy," she said.
Gates and Buffett and planning to travel to China in
September and India in March to speak to wealthy families about
the Giving Pledge in the hope that it will drive a similar
growth in philanthropy there.
Wall Street Journal wealth columnist Robert Frank, author
of "Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and
the Lives of the New Rich," said the recession had helped spur
America's rich to search for new status symbols.
"Yachts, private jets, seaside mansions are so 2007," Frank
wrote recently. "But being wealthy enough and generous enough
to get on the Giving Pledge list may quickly become the
ultimate badge of status -- both in the U.S. and abroad."
(Editing by Mark Egan and Jackie Frank)