What did it take to turn the Earth's richest man, who rarely gave a cent to those in need, into the world's most copious donor? It took, evidently, two typically fertile conditions: love and commitment.
I'm talking about Bill Gates, the scruffy, scrappy founder of Microsoft, who didn't begin truly sharing his monumental wealth until he hooked up with Melinda French, a bright Microsoft employee with an MBA from Duke.
Only after marrying her (under pressure from his aging mother), did Bill start donating billions to causes such as treating people with AIDS and malaria. Turns out, Bill isn't so different from the rest of us.
While we don't have personal foundations with 11-figure endowments (Bill and Melinda's boasts $28.8 billion), Americans do give away lots of money: about two percent of their yearly income. About 75 percent give to at least one charitable cause, according to the American Association of Fundraising Counsel, most often to churches and schools; oddly enough, the poorer they are, the more they tend to donate.
Bill is like the rest of us in another regard also. Americans generally give away very little money when we're young, becoming regular charitable donors only as we settle down and find a home, a community, and a spouse. (Not incidentally, this is when charities tend to find us, at our finally steady addresses; being asked is a huge factor in why people give money.)
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