Perspectives from ISB

Even as Mark Zuckerberg committed close to $45bn to social causes earlier this week, we take a quick glimpse into the world of family business and philanthropy. According to a recent study by EY and Kennesaw State University, 81% of the world’s largest family businesses practice philanthropy, and 47% have a family foundation. Hence, Zuckerberg is not alone. In fact he is one of 138 billionaires, who have recently pledged at least half of their wealth towards solving major social problems. Some of the other notable recent contributions include:

  • $43.6bn Warren Buffett: Buffett pledged to donate the sum in 2006 to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and three other foundations.
  • $16.4bn Helen Walton: The wife of Wal-Mart Stores founder Sam Walton donated her fortune to a family foundation after her death in 2007.
  • $5.2bn Leona Helmsley: Helmsley who made her fortune in hotels and other real estate, donated the sum to a charitable trust after her death in 2007.
  • $4.5bn James Sorensen: The medical entrepreneur donated to a family foundation after his death in 2008.
  • $3.1bn Warren Buffett: Buffett previously pledged this amount to three different foundations in 2012.
  • $1.5bn Mark Zuckerberg: The Facebook founder donated the sum to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation in 2012 and 2013.
  • $1.2bn Barron Hilton: The hotelier pledged the sum to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation in 2007.
  • $1bn Peter Peterson: The former investment banker donated the amount to a foundation bearing his name in 2008.
  • $1bn Ralph Wilson Jr: The longtime owner the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills donated the sum to a foundation bearing his name after his death in 2014.

The reason philanthropy is so widely practiced in family businesses, is because it acts as a bonding agent for families as it tangibly demonstrates the family values. It allows family members not directly involved in business to make a meaningful contribution. It is also a part of the religious and cultural belief system in many communities.