Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg signs up for Giving Pledge

Zuckerberg agrees to donate most of his wealth to charity

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has joined the band of billionaires who have pledged to give the majority of their wealth to charity.

Zuckerberg announced he had signed up for the Giving Pledge, an initiative set up by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates that asks signatories to commit to donating the majority of their wealth.

The 26-year-old is one of 17 billionaires newly signed up to the pledge. According to Forbes magazine, Zuckerberg's fortune is worth $6.9bn ($4.4bn). He was joined in the latest round of 16 other pledgers including AOL co-founder Stephen Case, corporate raider Carl Icahn and former junk-bond king Michael Milken.

Gates started the drive last year backed by Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor. He set up a series of dinners to try to persuade the world's wealthiest to give their fortunes to charity. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Oracle founder Larry Ellison, Star Wars director George Lucas and CNN media mogul Ted Turner were among early converts. A total of 57 of the world's wealthiest people have now pledged to give at least 50% of their wealth to charity.

"People wait until late in their career to give back. But why wait when there is so much to be done?" said Zuckerberg. "With a generation of younger folks who have thrived on the success of their companies, there is a big opportunity for many of us to give back earlier in our lifetime and see the impact of our philanthropic efforts."

The money collected under the Giving Pledge is not pooled or targeted at a specific cause. It is considered a "moral commitment" and is not a legal contract.

Philanthropy experts welcomed the move in principle but expressed concern about the lack of details. "It's really important that we look at not just who is giving but who is benefiting," said Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy in Washington. "In general, wealthy donors do not give in ways that benefit under-served communities."

Dorfman said the Giving Pledge was "vague" and lacked accountability. He said in general wealthy donors gave their money to the places they patronise, including arts centres and their alma maters. "Our survey found only $1 in [every] $3 actually went to the under-served, even when you define that group very broadly." Philanthropic giving has been hit hard by the weak economy. Dorfman said these latest pledges were "not the rebound the non-profit sector is looking for".

But Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University, said: "Research shows that when people know that others are giving, they are themselves more likely to give. So publicly pledging to give will encourage others to give. This holds true for billionaires and for those of us who aren't anywhere near that level of wealth. We can all make a difference, and play our part in making the world a better place."


Dominic Rushe in New York

The GuardianTramp

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