It’s one thing to cut a few checks at the end of the year in support of your favorite charities. Donating a small fraction of your income to well-meaning organizations is not to be minimized; the act, done properly, can meaningfully improve the lives of the less fortunate or the state of the world in general.
But it’s quite a different matter, and a more impressive one entirely, to give back as you earn that income. Even more so when that income-earning function is tightly bound with your efforts to make the world a better place.
This might sound like an impossibly idealistic arrangement, but actually more common than we realize, and growing more so with each passing year. These five entrepreneurs, some of whose names you’ll recognize, give (or gave) back freely, either in the course of their day-to-day duties or by setting aside a significant share of their total wealth for good.
1. Paul Allen
The late Paul Allen, the lesser-known cofounder of Microsoft, gave away more than $2 billion during his lifetime. Much of that wealth went to scientific endeavors; Allen’s gifts immeasurably advanced our understanding of the human brain and expanded the possibilities for artificial intelligence. Allen was also a generous benefactor of the arts and a steadfast supporter of American cultural life.
2. Derek Handley
Derek Handley could have stepped back after exiting The Hyperfactory, a revolutionary mobile marketing enterprise he co-founded a half-decade before the release of the iPhone. Instead, he went on to seed dozens of startups chartered to do good in the world.He also made a bold high-impact philanthropic act by donating two years of his life to partner with luminaries like Sir Richard Branson to create impact alliance “The B Team.”
3. Craig Newmark
The founder and namesake of Craigslist earned his wealth in a remarkably idealistic endeavor: creating a flat marketplace for goods and services that eliminated the need for high-priced middlemen. Newmark’s charitable organization, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, supports a host of high-minded endeavors, from combating disinformation in social media and protecting voting rights to supporting military veterans.
4. Pierre Omidyar
eBay founder and longtime chairman Pierre Omidyar is a billionaire several times over. Since stepping back from eBay’s chairmanship in 2015, he and his wife have donated at least $1 billion of their wealth to a variety of causes through an eponymous charitable organization built to empower ordinary citizens. Along the way, they’ve partnered with a cross-section of business, civic, and cultural leaders.
5. Warren Buffett
Self-made billionaire investor Warren Buffett is an early adopter of the so-called Giving Pledge, a promise by some of the world’s ultra-wealthy to donate at least 99 percent of their net wealth during their lifetimes or upon their deaths. Buffett has already made a significant down payment on that promise, including a multibillion-dollar donation to fellow billionaire Bill Gates’ foundation.
Give Back in Your Own Way
That you lack the resources to write seven-figure checks to charity or seed dozens of social enterprises should not stop you from giving back in your own way. Each of the entrepreneurs on this list relies on an army of employees, investors, consumers, and other stakeholders, after all. Their impact would not be felt in the same way (and perhaps not at all) without them. You can have an impact; put your mind to it and you will.