The World's Most Generous Philanthropists

Billionaires who open their wallets

Since the days of Andrew Carnegie, it's been a badge of honor for billionaires to give away part or all of their wealth. Philanthropy is the new currency of cool. Bill Gates was just some technology nerd until 2000, when he and his wife started the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Now they're a hot commodity sought after by charitable causes around the world. To have the Gates Foundation as a major benefactor of your charity is a huge selling point when fundraising.

Billionaires have little to worry about when it comes to day-to-day living. They're not thinking about whether they can pay the hydro bill but rather how they can change the world. Making a difference is what drives most successful people because their lives have moved beyond providing for the necessities. Men and women who've accumulated fortunes often feel the burden of philanthropy.

So, how much is enough? Should they give away all of their wealth, or is it okay to just give a little? There is no hard and fast rule for this exclusive group to follow. It's a personal decision, for sure. Bill Gates has donated approximately 35 percent of his wealth, while his former business partner, Paul Allen, has given just 5 percent. Does this make Gates a better philanthropist? Not by itself, it doesn't. Unfortunately, this kind of argument is futile because we don't live in a vacuum. Perhaps Paul Allen's investments create more jobs than Microsoft does. It's hard to imagine but certainly possible. Some suggest that the wealthy should give one-third of their annual income to charity. Many do just that. In the end, as long as they give, in terms of both money and time, does it really matter the amount?

Slate magazine publishes the Slate 60, an annual look at the year's most generous charitable contributions. Warren Buffett , America's second richest man behind Bill Gates, heads the 2006 list with $43.5 billion either donated or pledged. The next person in line is Herbert Sandler, founder of Golden West Financial, a California-based thrift bank, at $1.3 billion. William Macaulay, Chief Executive Officer of private equity firm First Reserve, is in 60thposition with a $30 million gift.

Those who end up on the Slate 60 tend to be very competitive. In some ways, it's even more of a privilege to be on this list than on the Forbes 400, the annual chronicling of America's richest people. The former says you're extremely generous; the latter, you're very rich. There is a difference.

Check out our profiles of generous philanthropists: geeks

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