SEATTLE — Forty wealthy families and individuals have joined Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and investor Warren Buffett in a pledge to give at least half of their wealth to charity.
Six weeks after launching a campaign to get other billionaires to donate most of their fortunes, Buffett, the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, released Wednesday the first list of people who have signed what he and Gates call the "giving pledge."
Buffett decided in 2006 to give 99 percent of his fortune to charity. Then, he was worth about $44 billion. After five years of investment returns while making annual gifts to five foundations, Buffett's fortune totals nearly $46 billion.
Among those who haven't signed the pledge, some prefer to keep their philanthropy anonymous, some were not available to talk, and others were not interested, Buffett said.
Many on the list will be asked to call others, and small dinners will be held across the country in coming months to talk about the campaign.
"We're off to a terrific start," Buffett said.
Buffett said he and Gates, worth about $53 billion, will meet with groups of wealthy people in China and India within the next six months to talk about philanthropy. They hope the idea of generosity will spread, but they have no plans to lead a global campaign, Buffett said.
Gates and Buffett estimate their efforts could generate $600 billion in charitable giving. In 2009, American philanthropies received about $300 billion in donations, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
In addition to making a donation commitment, Gates and Buffett are asking billionaires to pledge to give wisely and learn from their peers.
The group has no plans for combined giving. None of the philanthropists will be told how or when to give their money.
"Everybody has their own interests," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at $18 billion. "That's what's wonderful about private philanthropy."
B. DILLER, D. VON FURSTENBERG
THOMAS S. MONAGHAN
SANFORD, JOAN WEILL