What Do You Want to Give Away Today?

SAN FRANCISCO (01/26/2000) - If you're Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates or his wife Melinda, it's 'Another day, another $5 billion.' The transfer of wealth makes the snappily named Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation the most highly endowed foundation in the world, with $21.8 billion.

Because Bill has frequently expressed plans to give away most of his wealth, this may be just the beginning. Depending on which unauthorized Web site tracking his wealth you believe (don't these people have real jobs?), Gates is worth somewhere between $80 billion and $115 billion.

Coverage was limited to insight-free quotes from usual suspects, like Foundation spokesman Trevor Neilsen ("Size is less important to us than the tremendous responsibility that comes with using the resources in an effective way") and the editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy ("It just makes them sort of more important"). Rising above most of the coverage was the Washington Post's David Streitfeld, who noted that the $5 billion donation could have created the country's sixth-largest foundation - by itself. Added to the rest, of course, it helped the Gates Foundation edge past Britain's Wellcome Trust to become the world's largest. Streitfeld put the donation in the context of recent large donations by Netscape cofounder Jim Clark ($150 million to Stanford), former Netscape CEO James Barksdale ($100 million to the University of Mississippi) and Dell founder Michael Dell ($100 million to launch his own foundation).

It used to be about building the biggest house or driving the fastest car - during an interview a decade ago, Gates boasted about having lost his driver's license. Now the competition among the Net's elite may revolve around who can give away the most money. (Naturally, none of this has anything to do with elevating Gates' image as Judge Jackson readies his antitrust decision.) Could there be a more welcome trend from the land where executives trade in their sports cars for minivans so they have more room to fit their cash?

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