Zuckerberg's $45 Billion Philanthropy Challenge

Author:
Jennifer Montone
Theme:
Strategic Philanthropy
Thursday, December 10, 2015

Last week I could hear it everywhere: on the radio, on the T, at the gym, in the office kitchen.

“Did you hear Zuckerberg’s big announcement?”
“Do you think Zuckerberg learned from the last time?”
“Do you think Zuckerberg will inspire others?”

On December 1st, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan announced to the world  (through a very public letter to their newborn daughter) that they plan to give away 99% of their Facebook shares to charity during their lifetimes through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. That’s a whopping $45 billion (as the shares are valued today) dedicated to “advancing human potential and promoting equality.”

The Philanthropic Initiative applauds Zuckerberg and Chan for choosing to give away such a large portion of their wealth to serve the greater good of society – and for doing it in such a public way. Zuckerberg has been in the spotlight before for several large gifts, some more effective than others, and we recognize the courage it takes to open yourself up to judgments and criticism about how you are trying to do good in the world. There are a variety of reasons many philanthropists choose to give quietly, or even anonymously. For one thing, philanthropy is often personal. It’s about supporting causes and efforts you believe in.  However, philanthropy also takes place in the public sphere and is subsidized by our government’s tax system, inviting comments and sometimes critiques by others.

Given the scale of visibility and wealth involved, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative immediately launches the couple into a position of power few others hold. It is a position that demands a high level of responsibility.

Zuckerberg and Chan are in a position to decide which of the world’s biggest issues they want to address, and how they want to address them. Their decisions and actions may positively (and perhaps sometimes negatively) affect not only their daughter, but also children and others around the world for generations to come. And so we ask, how will they handle such responsibility?

Having true impact with your philanthropy requires a willingness to ask the biggest, boldest questions you can think of, along with a willingness to take some risks to try to answer them. Bold questions require bold answers, which can take time and patience to come to fruition. And so we ask, how will Zuckerberg and Chan assess the impact of their philanthropy, and use evaluation to inform strategy and enhance their impact over time?

As with so many areas in life, the success of your philanthropy often lies in the partnerships you choose to embrace. Zuckerberg and Chan are young, which means they have decades to forge partnerships with advisors, thought partners, leaders, and experts. And so we ask, how will they choose partnerships wisely?

And as many of TPI’s clients know, investing your philanthropic dollars to address (let alone solve) any of the world’s toughest issues is very hard work. It requires a strategic thoughtfulness and a willingness to learn – from others, and from your own mistakes. This requires a level of humility that is difficult to maintain. And so we ask, is the couple willing to publicly share mistakes made and lessons learned, and help to inform and strengthen their own efforts as well as the broader field of philanthropy?

One thing is for sure: Zuckerberg and Chan have a lifetime of work cut out for them. To share their values and vision with the world is, at its core, inspirational. We hope they take seriously their dedication to doing good, and invest not only their money but also their time, perspective, and the many assets that come with their position. Their potential is enormous and we at TPI are excited to see how they will approach some of these questions that all philanthropists face at one point or another in their philanthropic journey.

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