Buffett Tells Philanthropists to Fail More

Print Share on LinkedIn More

March 23, 2011; Source: Omaha World-Herald | Philanthropists are beginning to embrace failure, or at least they’re beginning to talk about embracing failure. NPQ’s own Rick Cohen asked yesterday, “Is this posturing or is it for real? And to what end?” The latest philanthropist to espouse the failure principal is Billionaire Warren Buffett.

Buffett, who last year tried to persuade U.S. billionaires to commit more than half of their wealth to charity by signing on to the Giving Pledge, says that philanthropists must be prepared to fail, and that if they’re not seeing some failure then they aren’t risking enough.

“If everything they do is successful, they’re a failure,” Buffett says of his children, all three philanthropists. “Because it means they’re taking on things that are too easy. They should be taking on things that are tougher.”

Buffett, the third richest man in the world, made these statements in India this week, where he is on a worldwide tour promoting philanthropy to billionaires.

Buffett cited charitable efforts by uber-capitalists Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller as paragons of this model. Carnegie, the steel baron, donated money to build public libraries, gave organs to churches and funded observatories, concert halls, botanical gardens and museums. Rockefeller, the oil magnate, helped establish the University of Chicago and New York’s Rockefeller University and set up a foundation that funds health initiatives.

“If you look at the history of Rockefeller or Carnegie, not everything they did worked,” Buffett said. “But they did some very, very important things that worked, that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”

Is this posturing? I wonder what our Rick Cohen thinks? If we’re lucky, he’ll comment in these pages. Maybe you should too.—Aaron Lester

  • rick cohen

    Perhaps the original article said this, but what does Buffett identify as the failures of his philanthropy (or the failures of John D. Rockefeller’s or Andrew Carnegie’s)? The issue is not whether philanthropy failed, but what was learned from the failure–and at what cost to real people.