Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced Tuesday that he plans to eventually donate 99 percent of the Facebook stock owned by him and his wife, Priscilla Chan, shares worth about $45 billion today, making it one of the largest-ever philanthropic commitments.
Zuckerberg said in an open letter that the birth last week of their first child, a daughter named Max, was the motivation to dedicate their wealth to charitable causes now. They wrote that they did not want to wait to "advance human potential and promote equality for all children."
"I will continue to serve as Facebook's CEO for many, many years to come," he wrote to their daughter, "but these issues are too important to wait until you or we are older to begin this work."
The money will be channeled into the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a newly formed group that initially will focus on education and health. It was also clear from Zuckerberg's letter that he and his wife had learned lessons from earlier philanthropic attempts and will move in a new direction.
Zuckerberg's announcement stands out because of his relative youth - he's 31 - and the gift's massive size. The donation also comes at a time when the world's wealthiest business leaders seem to be challenging one another to give away their fortunes before they die.
In 2010, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett publicly launched the Giving Pledge to encourage billionaires to donate the bulk of their wealth to charity. Gates, the former Microsoft leader, has already donated $31.5 billion, mostly to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Likewise, Buffett has said he plans to give away nearly his entire fortune, a gift by one estimate put at more than $51 billion.
More than 130 billionaires worldwide have joined them.
Zuckerberg quietly committed weeks ago to this pledge, too, although his Nov. 9 Giving Pledge letter didn't reveal the scale of his intentions.
A federal filing shows he will start by giving away up to $1 billion a year in Facebook stock for the first three years. Such tax-efficient arrangements are not unusual for gifts to private foundations.
"He clearly wants to be perceived as a leader of his generation in the same way as Buffett and Gates are theirs," said Richard Marker of the New York advisory firm Wise Philanthropy.
Zuckerberg and Chan, a pediatrician and onetime teacher, revealed their plans in a lengthy "letter to our daughter" published on Facebook.
In it, they talked about the potential that technology offers to reengineer the way children learn.
"Our generation grew up in classrooms where we all learned the same things at the same pace regardless of our interests or needs," they wrote.
Zuckerberg's first foray into education philanthropy was in itself a learning experience. In 2010, he gave $100 million to remake public schools in Newark, N.J., with mixed results.
Critics of that effort said the plan faltered in part because it was a top-down approach that called for wholesale changes in the city's public schools with plans crafted by outsiders, not community members.
In their letter to Max, the couple talked about learning from mistakes.
"Your mother and I have both taught students and we've seen what it takes to make this work. It will take working with the strongest leaders in education to help schools around the world adopt personalized learning."
Although the letter was obviously intended for a wide audience, the couple ended the note in a personal, quiet fashion.
It was signed simply: "Love, Mom and Dad."
While the Zuckerbergs' gift is "pretty close to the record books," Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, said it was slightly smaller than Warren Buffett's announced plan in 2006 to give away 99 percent of his wealth - a gift worth about $51.4 billion
in today's dollars. Buffett's gift was targeted to five organizations, with the bulk of it to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Gateses, meanwhile, who have said they will give away 95 percent of their fortune, have so far donated $31.5 billion, mostly to their foundation.