There is no such thing as meaningless charity, right? Whether or not those giving away their wealth do it for the right reasons, the most important thing to consider is who the funds will positively affect. However, sometimes this extreme generosity that supporters so vehemently defend is more of a business move than the whims of a charitable conscience.
This issue has long been left virtually unspoken about, because no one wants to be the person questioning the motives of such beneficial gestures. With Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s recent pledge to give away 99 percent of his Facebook shares ($45 billion) to humanitarian causes, it begs the question — is public philanthropy less meaningful than giving generously without a publicized announcement of the gesture?
Zuckerberg’s announcement has gained immense media attention, much of it negative. Critics of the move call out Zuckerberg for using his charity as a tax avoidance scheme more than anything else because Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are giving the money to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a limited liability company that the couple themselves own. That means whatever money goes into it is fully controlled by Zuckerberg and Chan — there is no board of directors or overseers to report to as there would be in a charitable foundation. Zuckerberg will be able to invest in for-profit companies, move the money he donated around freely and make a profit himself through the LLC. Some experts go as far as to claim the company will make it possible for Zuckerberg to save on income taxes and store money overseas.
The company is dedicated to “advancing human potential” and bettering the lives of people across the globe. Billions of dollars will be put towards curing diseases, increasing clean energy sources, eliminating poverty and empowering all people. The reality of these situations is that someone, somewhere is benefiting greatly from the generosity of Zuckerberg, regardless of his primary motive.
Zuckerberg’s decision to essentially move his money from one pocket to another is still admirable in my eyes. He did not inherit the billions of dollars now invested in improving our human condition. The Facebook founder is a businessman and creator with no obligation to delegate resources to anyone but himself. Individuals who pass judgment on these types of decisions simply because of their economic intricacies, (which many times are not actually understood), or the fact that these gestures are usually televised or reported on (Zuckerberg is a public figure) need to first take on the responsibility of that much money and then critique how and when it should be utilized. The billionaires who are donating heaps of money don’t sleep any less comfortably due to their contribution — but that does not lessen the influence and importance of the act itself.