$45 Billion of Good

There are certain days that make the experience of welcoming a child into the world that much sweeter. I lived that a few years back when my first daughter entered the world, earlier than expected and right on Mother’s Day. It made me think being born on New Year’s Day, Father’s Day, or anytime around Thanksgiving Day would add something just a little extra special to an already surreal moment.

Such was the good fortune of Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg last week with the birth of their daughter. And shortly after, the new parents shared an open letter with their daughter—and the rest of the world—on the social media platform Zuckerberg created. In it, they shared their desire to commit themselves to work “advancing human potential and promoting equality for all children in the next generation.” They went on to pledge a remarkable financial investment to help achieve that work—99% of their stake in Facebook stock, presently valued at $45 billion.

What’s ensued since the letter’s release has been a largely supportive chorus of messages from like-minded philanthropists like Warren Buffet, Melinda and Bill Gates, and Michael Bloomberg. In contrast, some have aired questions about a system that allows for the amassing of such wealth and the potential negative consequences for its concentrated and possibly misguided deployment.

But what struck me was the intersection of the message’s substance and delivery method.

On substance, the vehicle through which the giving will take place—a limited liability company—will give their initiative flexibility to invest and become involved in issues in ways a traditional nonprofit structure would find challenging. And while possibly a less transparent model in terms of reporting on activities, it seems yet another sign of philanthropy moving to a more investment, entrepreneurial mindset that may well challenge the traditional structures we know today. In the wake of this announcement, it will be interesting to see what, if any, shift occurs in how others launch or restructure their giving.

On delivery, there’s a lot to appreciate. A traditional, personal letter juxtaposed with and executed on a digital platform. A message, at least in part, about giving released on the increasingly popular Giving Tuesday. A commitment to future generations set to the backdrop of the arrival of one of its participants. Add it all up and you’ve got a well-packaged message that may well be looked upon as pivotal in the work of purpose-driven organizations and those that support them.

The letter and the vision it lays out are reminders to us that these are both daunting and exciting times. While there are great challenges that stand in the way of the Zuckerberg’s envisioned future for their daughter, there is also great momentum from all sectors to bring their best resources and talents to bear. Most of all, it reinforces for us that this is indeed a good time to be doing good, for the good of others

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