May 6, 2011; Source: Associated Press | What do ultra rich philanthropists talk about when they get together? We can only guess, or – at best – piece together the story from what they tell us after the fact. According to the Associated Press, some 61 billionaires who have signed a pledge to give away at least half of their wealth gathered at a Tucson resort last week, for a meeting that was closed to the news media and everyone else.
Several, however, spoke on the record afterward, and in their comments to the AP, described the event as an opportunity for the group of givers to "meet each other, compare notes, eat and laugh."
Although a very small and exclusive circle, not all these billionaires knew each other before the event. For example, Warren Buffett, who along with Bill Gates, instigated the Giving Pledge, apparently only knew about 12 of the other guests, but after he "worked the room," during a Thursday night dinner he "made 40 new friends."
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While they may have been closed-mouth to the outside world, they were quite chatty with each other and used the occasion to learn about their individual philanthropic pursuits. AP reports that Melinda Gates, who co-chairs the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with her husband, "was delighted by the openness of the virtual strangers." George Kaiser, a Tulsa, Okla., philanthropist who aids early childhood education and social services programs, said he found it "extraordinarily useful" to hear from "others who are agonizing" about how to best invest their philanthropic dollars to produce positive social returns.
During individual sessions led by Giving Pledge signatories themselves – no outside advisers were permitted – philanthropists discussed their efforts to improve education, the environment and other causes. In his session, AOL co-founder Steve Case talked about using social media to encourage giving. Also, during informal conversations, group members explored the possibility of collaborating on projects.
Tashia Morgridge, a retired special education teacher, who works with her husband, Cisco Systems chairman John Morgridge, on improving U.S. education, noted that "being a philanthropist, in many ways it's rather a lonely job." Now even lonely billionaire givers know whom to call for help.—Bruce Trachtenberg