Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, officially win Giving Tuesday. In a Facebook post (but of course), the couple announced the birth of their daughter, Max, born last week, and, in an open letter to the baby, pledged to give 99 percent of their Facebook shares—at present worth $45 billion—to charitable projects over the course of their lives.
Their newly formed Chan Zuckerberg Initiative will focus on “personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people, and building strong communities,” the couple wrote.
“Like all parents, we want you to grow up in a world better than ours today,” Zuckerberg and Chan wrote in the letter to Max. “We will do our part to make this happen, not only because we love you, but also because we have a moral responsibility to all children in the next generation.” Zuckerberg and Chan join an elite club of billionaires, including Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, in giving away the majority of their fortunes to philanthropy. This is the latest and greatest donation by the couple, whose major gifts include a $100 million donation to Newark, New Jersey, schools and $125 million to San Francisco Bay Area schools.
While Zuckerberg and Chan’s letter to their daughter is getting attention, and their pledge staggering, their announcement quickly raised questions: How will the Facebook founder and CEO maintain a controlling interest in the company if he’s giving away most of his shares? The key words in his announcement are that he and Priscilla plan to donate the money incrementally “during our lives,” not a lump sum all at once. Zuckerberg won’t give away more than $1 billion in shares per year over the next three years, according to a securities filing by Facebook, thus retaining voting control over the company he founded in a Harvard dorm room.
BuzzFeed also notes that the billions that will fund the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative aren’t technically going exclusively “to charity,” as the organization wasn’t filed as a charitable trust but as an LLC or private company that will also fund “philanthropic, public advocacy, and other activities for the public good,” as well as investments in nonprofits, a Facebook rep confirmed, noting that any profits from such investments would be funneled back into “work to advance the mission.”
Others pointed out that there is personal benefit for Zuckerberg in founding his new philanthropic organization: It will allow him to unload Facebook stock without paying capital gains taxes. But poking holes in a multibillion-dollar charitable gift seems like the ultimate holiday Scroogery. Zuckerberg can clearly afford those taxes and, evidenced by today’s announcement and his history of giving, isn’t one to hoard his fortune. Bill and Melinda Gates congratulated Zuckerberg and Chan on Facebook, calling them “an inspiration to us and the world.” In their letter, Zuckerberg and Chan told Max that they “can’t wait to see what you bring to this world.” Now the world can’t wait to see what the family does next.
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