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Adriene Davis
IU Center on Philanthropy

Last modified: Friday, August 6, 2010

IU philanthropy experts on 'Giving Pledge': What matters is how gifts are used

Aug. 6, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- More than three dozen billionaires have signed up for The Giving Pledge, an effort by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett to encourage wealthy people to give at least half of their fortunes to charity. Patrick Rooney, executive director and professor of Philanthropic Studies at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, and Leslie Lenkowsky, a professor at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs and of Philanthropic Studies at the Center on Philanthropy, are available to comment on the initiative.

Patrick Rooney

Patrick Rooney

Print-Quality Photo

The idea has both potential and challenges, Rooney said. "It's been estimated that if everyone on the Forbes 400 fulfilled the pledge, $600 billion would go to charity. That's about double the total amount of Americans' annual charitable giving."

The important thing, Rooney said, is to give wisely. "Ninety-eight percent of the wealthy give to charity, according to studies the Center has done for Bank of America. But giving large sums away responsibly is not easy. And some nonprofits, especially smaller ones, may not initially have the capacity to manage big gifts. Donors need to plan carefully and work with charities to structure gifts effectively in ways that can make the greatest difference."

The pledge could do some good by helping foster a "culture of giving," Lenkowsky said. "But what really matters, in philanthropy, is not the amount given but how it is used," he said. "And, of course, this pledge doesn't address the use question."

Leslie Lenkowsky

Leslie Lenkowsky

Lenkowsky said the response to the pledge provides evidence that people who have accumulated great wealth feel an obligation to be generous. "Furthermore, the bulk of the people on this list are those who made their own money," he said. "That confirms the Center's research for Bank of America, which finds that entrepreneurs are more likely to be generous than people who inherit their fortunes."

News media may contact Rooney or Lenkowsky at 317-278-8972 or