Meeting of America's Richest About 'Need,' Attendee Says

Charities Suffer in Recession

The meeting was reminiscent of the 1907 salons of America's foremost financiers held in the study of J.P. Morgan to discuss how private citizens could stop the economic panic. IrishCentral reported that each of the participants was given 15 minutes to propose how to best direct their charity given the global economic climate.

Charities are suffering during the crisis, and America's top philanthropists likely met to chart a new course for global charity, said Stacy Palmer, editor-in-chief of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

A meeting of the country's top philanthropists is "extraordinary" and "really unusual," Palmer said.

"I can't think of another time they've all been in the same room to talk about philanthropy," she said. "It's unprecedented."

Gates and Buffet have publicly committed their vast fortunes to the same philanthropic efforts, and Rockefeller, the chairman of Rockefeller Financial Services, comes from a long line of philanthropists.

Gates, the founder and former CEO of Microsoft, who topped the Forbes' Richest People list this year, has dedicated his foundation to eradicating infectious disease worldwide.

According to Portfolio magazine, Gates, who is worth about $59 billion, donated $3.7 billion from 2002 to 2006 and $10 billion from 2007 to 2008.

Warren Buffett, CEO of conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, was ranked the second-richest man by Forbes this year with a net worth is estimated at $52 billion. Though his giving in the past year is not disclosed, he donated some $46.1 billion between 2002 and 2006, according to Portfolio.

In 2006, Buffet pledged $31 billion, the bulk of his fortune, to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, doubling the organization's endowment virtually overnight.

Though the charitable interests of the participants differ, they have some things in common, said Bob Ottenhoff, CEO of Guidestar, a service that tracks nonprofit organizations.

For the most part, the attendees are all self-made. Their donations come from money they made in their own lifetimes, rather than old family fortunes, and they have committed to giving away their fortunes while still alive rather than through bequests after their deaths.

One exception is Rockefeller, scion of the Rockefeller fortune. In 2008, Rockefeller gave $137 million to charity.

Philanthropic Groups Have Global Reach

Though the philanthropic focus of each of the participants differs, many of their foundations have a global dimension.

"Each has their specialty. Gates focuses on world health, [CNN founder Ted] Turner on the environment and the UN, Soros is involved in civic engagement," Ottenhoff said.

Between 1997 and 2006 Turner has donated $1.6 billion, the bulk of which, $1 billion, went to the UN Foundation in 1997.

Soros, a fund manager worth $9 billion, gave $1.1 billion from 2002 to 2006 and $475 million from 2007 to 2008. Much of Soros giving goes to his family's Open Society Institute.

"These sorts of meetings don't happen very often. It is difficult for large philanthropic organizations to work together. The fact that these are all very engaged living donors means very interesting things can happen," Ottenhoff said.

Both Ottenhoff and Palmer agreed that it was likely the financial crisis that brought everyone together.

Charitable giving has taken a serious hit in recent months, and the power players likely discussed how to keep some nonprofits afloat.

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