Warren's Big Give. And Why Buffett Family Philanthropy Is Booming

It's that time of year again, as Warren Buffett parts with another big chunk of Berkshire Hathaway stock—$2.86 billion worth—as part of a giving plan he started in 2006.

That was when Buffett made his historic pledge to donate much of his fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. People have been so fixated on the unique philanthropic alliance between Buffett and the Gateses that little attention has been paid to the other part of the 2006 pledge, which was to funnel an additional sizeable chunk of stock to four foundations controlled by Buffett's children—Howard, Susie, and Peter.

As I've argued before, this is actually the more interesting part of the story of what will happen to America's second largest fortune.

Related: The Buffett Universe: A Surprising Look at the MostPowerfulFamily in U.S. Philanthropy

Together, the Buffett siblings oversee annual giving that may now be approaching a billion dollars a year (we don't have 2015 data) and this flow of money is bankrolling some of the edgiest grantmaking that you'll find anywhere in the philanthrosphere. 

The biggest family foundation is the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, which is powered both by a large endowment of nearly $3 billion and annual infusions of Berkshire Hathaway stock, valued at over $200 million in a recent year. That explains why STBF has such deep pockets, with annual giving approaching a half-billion dollars—making it one of the biggest grantmakers around. 

What's more, as we've described, STBF is laser-focused on advancing reproductive rights worldwide, operating at the forefront of what is one of the most contentious (and important issues) issues of our time. As we just reported yesterday, STBF is far and away the largest funder of abortion services in the United States, and it's also backed pioneering work in recent years to reduce teen pregnancy rates through better contraception. (Never, ever think of STBF as "pro-abortion," since probably no foundation in America has done more to reduce the number of women who seek and get abortions following unintended pregnancies.)


Then there's the NoVo Foundation, which Peter Buffett runs with his wife Jennifer. As we've been reporting, NoVo has lately emerged as the leading funder drawing attention to the long-neglected challenges facing young women and girls of color, including a recent $90 million commitment in this area.

More broadly, it's fair to describe NoVo as the biggest and best-funded feminist foundation in history, in terms of how it consciously advances feminine values of collaboration and partnership in opposition to what it sees as a world based on domination and exploitation. NoVo last reported assets of $$527 million in 2014, and you can bet that pile is much larger now, given two more huge infusions of Berkshire Hathaway stock.

Related"Now Is Our Chance." Behind NoVo's New Big Bet on Girls and Women of Color

And let's not forget about Howard Buffett, whose foundation is pulling in similar money every year from Warren, and doing its best to give away those funds as quickly as possible. As we've reported, the Howard Buffett Foundation is backing one of the most ambitious agricultural projects in Africa ever undertaken by a foundation, with its half-billion-dollar investment in Rwanda—on top of a range of other agricultural projects aimed at helping subsistence farmers do better, especially in adverse climates.

Related: A Test Case in Africa: Howard G. Buffett’s $500 Million Commitment to Rwandan Farmers

Nearly as ambitious are Howard's efforts to stabilize the Great Lakes region of Africa, one of the bloodiest corners of the world over the past two decades. A cornerstone of that work comprises the foundation's expensive investments in small hydroelectric power plants. Buffett's theory is that peace will never come to the Congo and surrounding areas without jobs that can employ young men now bearing arms, and that energy is a linchpin of such economic activity. 

Related: Which Big Funder is Coming to Congo’s Rescue?

There's a lot more to say about Buffett family philanthropy, and we're regularly getting down into the weeds on different components of this.

The bottom line, here, is that if you think that Warren Buffet is giving "all his money" to the Gates Foundation, you're missing one of the biggest stories in U.S. philanthropy right now.