Sheryl Sandberg Will Hand Over Half Her Wealth

Earlier this year, we learned that the 85 wealthiest people have the same combined worth as the poorest 3.5 billion people — half the world's population. But a few of these billionaires, most recently Sheryl Sandberg, are doing some redistributing of their own by signing the Giving Pledge, a commitment started by Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates to give away half their riches either during their lifetime or upon their death. For someone like Warren Buffett, this pledge would amount to a donation of over $29 billion. On Friday, Forbes reported that Sandberg and her husband Dave are two of the seven latest power players to sign the Giving Pledge — but there remains some uncertainty as to what the Giving Pledge actually gives.

Started four years ago, the Giving Pledge has now attracted the promises of 127 wealthy donors. Membership to the elite philanthropic club is simple: be a billionaire, give away at least half of that billion. While the list is one that keeps growing, it's doing so at a modest pace. In November 2013, the Giving Pledge had 115 signatures — in the span of 6 months, they have added 12 names.

Of course, there are a limited number of billionaires (1,650 by Forbes' estimation), but even so, the number of individuals who have signed do not even comprise 8 percent of the world's wealthiest. However, according to Buffett, many of those who have agreed to pledge their fortunes intend to donate more than 50 percent. Buffett himself has already said he will give away 99 percent of his $58.5 billion net worth, and the Gates' have pledged 95 percent.

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Sheryl Sandberg, who is estimated to be worth around $1 billion, quite literally depending on how Facebook's stocks are doing on that particular day, will be donating at least $500 million to a cause of her choosing. Sandberg becomes only the second woman on the donating list after Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. Given that there are an estimated 138 female billionaires (only eight percent of the total number of billionaires), that there are only two women who have pledged away a proportion of their fortunes is somewhat surprising.

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Sandberg has yet to make clear what causes her money will be going towards. Signers of the Giving Pledge generally reveal what organizations they choose to fund in their Pledge Letter, in which they may also explain why they chose to donate their money. However, Sandberg's background as a feminist and strong supporter of girls and women in the workforce suggest that her wealth will likely be going to organizations meant to further female empowerment and progress. One such organization will likely be her own Lean In Foundation, whose self-described goal is to "offer women the ongoing inspiration and support to help them achieve their goals."

While such generosity from these philanthropic individuals must be applauded, there is some concern that due to the sheer size of the donations, more attention is given to the philanthropists and their money than the organizations to which their philanthropy is directed. Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, told The Chronicle Of Philanthropy:

All the focus is how much people are giving, not to what causes or what social good they are creating in the world with their gifts. What kind of community benefit are we seeing?

Unfortunately, this will be difficult to tell, as the Giving Pledge does not track members' donations, nor does it release any further information about the donations' destinations other than the Pledge Letters. As such, there are worries that some of the money may not be going to help the world's most immediately pressing problems, but rather kept in the donators' own foundations or charities. At least nine of the Pledge signers plan to give the largest gifts to their own charities, some of which may not begin giving out money for years to come.

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Robert Wilson, who founded the hedge fund Wilson & Associates, refused to sign the Giving Pledge because there was no ban from giving money to family foundations, which he deemed "bureaucracy-ridden sluggards." Instead, Wilson donated $600 million to for environmental conservation, the American Civil Liberties Union and Roman Catholic education before committing suicide at the age of 87 last year.

In a paper published by Perspectives in Politics this January, pollsters compared the opinions of the one percent to the general public on social issues. The results were rather surprising — the wealthy were far less in favor of increasing the minimum wage, national healthcare, government jobs for the unemployed, and ensuring college access for all than were general public respondents.

While this certainly reflects a sort of disconnect between the opinions of the super wealthy and the rest of us, it does not necessarily mean that their philanthropic efforts should be disregarded. The Giving Pledge is the first organization of its kind to actively mobilize billionaires to give away their money. And if Sheryl's onboard, we can get behind it too.