Some of the wealthiest people in the United States recently held a clandestine meeting in New York City. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey and other members the nation's financial elite met at Rockefeller University, to discuss the state of charitable giving. Attendees agreed not to speak to the press about the substance of the conversation.
According to several news sources, those in attendance, all on the Forbes list of richest Americans, also included David Rockefeller Sr., New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Ted Turner, Eli and Edythe Broad, John and Tashia Morgridge, Peter Peterson of the Blackstone Group and Julian H. Robertson Jr. All told, The New York Times reports that, according to the Chronicle of Charitable Giving, the attendees have given away over $72 billion in the past 12 years. By Forbes' estimates, the group is currently worth $120 billion.
The charity world can certainly use their help. The Foundation Center projects that foundation giving will drop by a high single- to low double-digit percentage in 2009, and 43 percent of individual foundations are expected to dip into their endowments to fund programs this year.
Ironically, a recent government study found that the lowest 20 percent of the U.S. population by income gave over twice as much as a percentage of their income as the wealthiest 20 percent. This bodes ill for charities that depend primarily on small contributions.
IrisCentral.com reported that each attendee at the May 5th meeting, held in the President's Room at Rockefeller University, was given 15 minutes to express his or her views on charitable issues. Abiding by the pact to keep the meeting content private, none of the attendees would elaborate on what transpired.
While we don't know what Bill and Oprah chatted about, it's pretty clear that there is considerable need for charity in the U.S., and the need is only growing. People are losing their jobs and houses, more people are going hungry, libraries are closing, citizens are losing their health insurance -- the list goes on and on. We can only hope that the super rich, who have benefited so spectacularly from the American economy, will increase their efforts to help those who need it. What do you think they should do?