The 75 year old billionaire is well known for his sound investing and practical advice. However, in humanitarian circles he might be better known for pledging most of his earnings to charity. The bulk of the fortune is planned to be given to the Gates Foundation and other related organizations which focus on world health. Other charities on the giving list include foundations headed by Buffett’s three children, Susan, Howard, and Peter, and to the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation.
The following quotation from 1988 highlights Warren Buffett's thoughts on his wealth and why he long planned to re-allocate it:
I don't have a problem with guilt about money. The way I see it is that my money represents an enormous number of claim checks on society. It's like I have these little pieces of paper that I can turn into consumption. If I wanted to, I could hire 10,000 people to do nothing but paint my picture every day for the rest of my life. And the GDP would go up. But the utility of the product would be zilch, and I would be keeping those 10,000 people from doing AIDS research, or teaching, or nursing. I don't do that though. I don't use very many of those claim checks. There's nothing material I want very much. And I'm going to give virtually all of those claim checks to charity when my wife and I die. (Lowe 1997:165–166)
From a NY Times article: "I don't believe in dynastic wealth", Warren Buffett said, calling those who grow up in wealthy circumstances "members of the lucky sperm club". Buffett has written several times of his belief that, in a market economy, the rich earn outsized rewards for their talents:
A market economy creates some lopsided payoffs to participants. The right endowment of vocal chords, anatomical structure, physical strength, or mental powers can produce enormous piles of claim checks (stocks, bonds, and other forms of capital) on future national output. Proper selection of ancestors similarly can result in lifetime supplies of such tickets upon birth. If zero real investment returns diverted a bit greater portion of the national output from such stockholders to equally worthy and hardworking citizens lacking jackpot-producing talents, it would seem unlikely to pose such an insult to an equitable world as to risk Divine Intervention.
His children will not inherit a significant proportion of his wealth. This is consistent with statements he has made in the past indicating his opposition to the transfer of great fortunes from one generation to the next. Buffett once commented, "I want to give my kids just enough so that they would feel that they could do anything, but not so much that they would feel like doing nothing".
In June 2006, he announced a plan to give away his fortune to charity, with 83% of it going to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He pledged about the equivalent of 10 million Berkshire Hathaway Class B shares to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (worth approximately US$30.7 billion as of June 23, 2006), making it the largest charitable donation in history, and Buffett one of the leaders of philanthrocapitalism. The foundation will receive 5% of the total donation on an annualised basis each July, beginning in 2006. (Significantly, however, the pledge is conditional upon the foundation's giving away each year, beginning in 2009, an amount that is at least equal to the value of the entire previous year's gift from Buffett, in addition to 5% of the foundation's net assets.) Buffett also will join the board of directors of the Gates Foundation, although he does not plan to be actively involved in the foundation's investments.
This is a significant shift from previous statements Buffett has made, having stated that most of his fortune would pass to his Buffett Foundation. The bulk of the estate of his wife, valued at $2.6 billion, went to that foundation when she died in 2004. He also pledged $50-million to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, in Washington, where he has served as an adviser since 2002.
In 2006, he auctioned his 2001 Lincoln Town Car on eBay to raise money for Girls, Inc. In 2007, he auctioned a luncheon with himself that raised a final bid of $650,100 for the Glide Foundation which was won by Mohnish Pabrai and Guy Spier. On June 27, 2008, Zhao Danyang, a general manager at Pure Heart China Growth Investment Fund, won the 2008 5-day online "Power Lunch with Warren Buffett" charity auction with a bid of $2,110,100. Auction proceeds benefit the San Francisco Glide Foundation. The following year, executives from Toronto-based Salida Capital paid US$1.68 million to dine with Buffett.
In a letter to Fortune Magazine's website in 2010 Buffett remarked:
My luck was accentuated by my living in a market system that sometimes produces distorted results, though overall it serves our country well... I've worked in an economy that rewards someone who saves the lives of others on a battlefield with a medal, rewards a great teacher with thank-you notes from parents, but rewards those who can detect the mispricing of securities with sums reaching into the billions. In short, fate's distribution of long straws is wildly capricious.
This statement was made as part of a joint proposal with Bill Gates to encourage other wealthy individuals to pool some of their fortunes for charitable purposes.
Bill Gates's wife Melinda urged people to learn a lesson from the philanthropic efforts of the family that sold its home and gave away half of its value, as detailed in The Power of Half.
On December 9, 2010, Buffett, Bill Gates, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, signed a promise they called the "Gates-Buffett Giving Pledge", in which they promised to donate to charity at least half of their wealth over time, and invited others among the wealthy to donate 50% or more of their wealth to charity.