Video: A history of ultra-wealthy charity

By Anchor
CNBC
updated 6/27/2006 12:34:39 PM ET 2006-06-27T16:34:39

If you believe the hype, Warren Buffett's name will one day be mentioned alongside the Fords, Mellons, Rockefellers and Carnegies — men who committed enough of their own money, as Carnegie, himself put it, to "do real and permanent good in this world."

"Part of what Rockefeller and Carnegie did was start a tradition of philanthropy in this country," says Stacy Palmer with the Chronicle of Philanthropy, "and I think what Gates and Buffet are trying to do is extend on that, they very much call on that legacy."

Large-scale money has, in fact, alleviated some of the world's troubles.

Andrew Carnegie donated $7 billion — when adjusted for inflation — barely one-fourth of Buffett's grant. And yet, thathelped build 2,000 libraries, encouraging small-town America to learn to read.

John D. Rockefeller's foundation not only funded the vaccine for yellow fever, but also the discovery of DNA.

Their names are etched in some of the most famous buildings in America, like Carnegie Hall. But why isn't donating in this country as easy as it is impressive?

Charity experts acknowledge that even a decade after a scandal rocked the United Way of America, there is a sense that — even in philanthropy — money can still corrupt.

"Itis not an easy task to give away money and give away money wisely and effectively," says Eugene Temple, with the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, "because you do have organizations who will give you numbers and tell you things you want to hear."

Buffett doesn't have that problem. And his $37 billion could theoretically buy a lot: Enough cervical cancer vaccines for the population of Bangladesh or a personal computer for everyone in the Congo.

But foundations say more powerful than Buffett's gift is the message he's sending to other wealthy Americans — that those who have the least in this world should benefit from those who have the most.

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