What the rich do with their money, the Ballmer, Zuckerberg edition

This week, both Steve Ballmer, the former chief executive of Microsoft, and Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, made news for what they did with their money.

Ballmer is buying the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion.

Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $120 million to schools in low income San Francisco Bay Area communities, as the Mercury News’ Brandon Bailey wrote.  Chan was interviewed on NBC’s Today show discussing the couple’s thinking behind the donation.

The two expenditures point to some potential differences between two different generations of tech leaders.

In short, the younger generation led by Zuckerberg may be thinking more about philanthropy earlier in their careers. For example, Zuckerberg, who is worth an estimated $19 billion, has agreed, as part of The Giving Pledge, to give more than half of his wealth away in his lifetime.

Ballmer, worth more than $15 billion, has made donations, such as $10 million to a Washington health services organization and $10 million to Harvard. But he is not listed on The Giving Pledge’s website as one of those who have made the pledge, although his name has been floated as a possible donor.

Likewise, Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, didn’t really begin his philanthropic effort until after he took a step back from the day-to-day operation of his company.

Being a philanthropist takes time and each big donation, for better or worse, puts a person more in the media’s eye. A New Yorker article of Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to the Newark schools detailed how some of the money had been spent and possibly misspent. But in an op-ed in the Mercury News, Zuckerberg and Chan said that the work there is underway and takes time.

The donation this week to Bay Area schools may answer questions some have had about what Zuckerberg intended to do with his wealth.

Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce.com, questioned Zuckerberg’s $1 billion pledge to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, telling San Francisco Magazine:

Where’s it gone? What good is it doing now? I’m sure his intentions are positive, but we need to see that money get distributed. What are his targets? What are his philanthropic interests? We know that he has a political interest with his 501(c)(4) [Fwd.us, a lobbying group pushing for tech-friendly federal policies], but what are his philanthropic interests?

Zuckerberg and his wife are just getting started showing what they plan to do.

This post was updated with the correct amount that Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan are donating to local schools. It is $120 million. 

Above: Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg.  (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)


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  • Poogie Bell

    I love that the tech blogs and articles now have comment streams attached to them. Journalism (or whatever this is now) has expanded and there is now the opportunity for the public at large to express themselves and in effect, become part of the story. I think it’s great! After having said this, I want to state here that the comment stream on the Zuckerberg story indicated that there are quite a few people who are skeptical of Zuck’s charitable contribution on many levels: what kind of a tax break does this guy get? how come no teachers on his stupid committee to distribute the $$? what is this guy’s true intent? We thought he was down for comprehensive immigration reform (presumably because of the H1B bonanza SV will get as a result)? So…screw Zuck and his ‘philanthropy’ — really ought to be called ‘strategic charitability’ . As for Ballmer — he wanted a basketball team. He was one of the guys who wanted to buy the Kings but bailed on it. Instead another tech-guy bought it. So..Seattle Clippers… Nice move. The team will win and Ballmer and Co. will make $$$. BTW…stupid, pointless article. Please write about something ‘better’ than this and quit giving these guys the rockstar spotlight.

  • Robert Petry

    Thank you for giving to the schools your heart is in the right place.

  • I just read teh Newark story— http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2014/05/19/140519fa_fact_russakoff?currentPage=all . Zuckerberg and friends tried their best there, but were defeated by the teachers union. The only way reform can work is through politics. That means either vouchers for private schools, or getting control of the legislature and changing the laws on seniority, credentialism, unionization, and such things. Break the union, though, and everything else will solve itself. That’s where his $100 million should have gone— that’s a lot of donations, and one big push could destroy the union’s political power by cutting off the union dues. It could go to Republicans, or to a newly created faction of the Democratic party, but it would have to win the governor and a ruthless majority of the legislature. His best bet would be to pick a poor, small, state with bad schools— South Carolina, maybe, or Maryland— and try to outbid the union. For one person’s donation to win statehouse reform is hopeless in California, except via referendum— it’s too big, too expensive, and too dominated by Democrats who are owned by the unions.