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News this week about Warren Buffett’s announcement he will gift some $30.7 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has set the philanthropic world on its ear. This gift, coming over time, will make the already enormous Gates Foundation by far the largest in the world.

Buffett’s surprise announcement follows Bill Gates’ predicted announcement earlier in this month that he will soon step aside as Microsoft’s Chief Software Engineer in favor of a nearly full-time role guiding his and his wife’s philanthropic program.

Whatever one thinks of the ideological leanings or particular program recipients of either Buffett’s or the Gates’s donations, you have to admire their example that perhaps “enough is enough.” They are obviously successful capitalists, creatively, shrewdly, and honestly earning great wealth, creating opportunities and blessings for others, and offering products that have enriched the abundance of the American economy. But now they are saying that giving matters.

I like that. It reminds me of Andrew Carnegie, who gave the equivalent of $7.3 billion at the end of his life. We’ve all seen and benefited from the Carnegie Libraries that resulted from Mr. Carnegie’s munificence.

It reminds me even more of the old Puritan ethic borrowed from and based upon Christian understanding that it’s a disgrace to die with great wealth. It’s not a disgrace to earn or own wealth, only a disgrace not to care properly for its distribution for the public good. John Wesley was another early American example, saying, “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.”

I make a living in part by asking people to give. That’s what many nonprofit executives do. It’s not crass. It’s a privilege. I meet a lot of very generous people.

I’ve also met my share of people, Christian or not, who are not givers but accumulators. They cannot bring themselves to distribute what it took them a lifetime to acquire and from which they gain not just their security but their identity. They cannot let go. They quite literally die with all their assets, sometimes letting Uncle Sam take half of it. It’s a sad sight.

But oh the joy of giving joyfully. God says he loves the heart of a cheerful giver, and those who learn how to do it before it’s too late are the real beneficiaries.

So while I do not agree with some of Warren Buffett’s or Bill and Melinda Gates’s politics, I salute their example. They’re leading. They’re giving back. The rest of us, no matter our relative wealth, should do the same.


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