In an article for The Sunday Telegraph Lord Ashcroft explains why he is pledging more than half of his money to good causes

  • 5 May, 2013
  • Philanthropy

I have taken the pledge. No, I am not giving up alcohol – I enjoy the occasional glass of fine wine far too much to do that. Instead, I have signed up to The Giving Pledge, thereby making a public promise to donate more than half of my money to good causes.

On Tuesday, it will be formally announced that my name has been added to the list of other like-minded individuals – including Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg – who have already put their names to the cause.

In the words of the founders’ website: “The Giving Pledge is a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.”

So why have I done this?

My parents instilled in me a work ethic and social responsibility: I believe these values formed the roots of my eventual commitment to philanthropy. During my career as an entrepreneur and businessman, I have been fortunate enough to have created wealth. It is the major proportion of these earnings that I intend to put to good causes over the years and decades ahead.

During the Eighties when I started investing in the United States, I discovered that one of the most appealing traits of American life is the tendency of many wealthy individuals to see it as part of their civic duty to support charities.

Over the years, I became a convert to philanthropy and I started donating to deserving and innovative causes. I saw that some of the best ideas to emerge in the US had their roots in charities and the freedom to innovate that they provided.

Philanthropy is, of course, not a modern concept. It was Gamaliel Bailey, the 19th-century American journalist, who wrote: “Never respect men merely for their riches, but rather for their philanthropy; we do not value the sun for its height, but for its use.”

However, Michael E Porter, a business guru from Harvard Business School, was right when he said some years ago: “Billions are wasted on ineffective philanthropy. Philanthropy is decades behind business in applying rigorous thinking to the use of money.”

As a self-made man, I am determined that when I donate to charitable causes, the donation should not be frittered away or lie stagnant in a bank account. I therefore favour in most cases a hands-on approach, driving a charitable project forward in the same way that I would seek to progress with a business.

I also prefer to donate to subjects close to my heart: for example, to fighting crime, to supporting education, and to championing the military in general, and gallantry in particular.

I am proud, for example, that my first major charitable enterprise, Crimestoppers, is this year celebrating the 25th anniversary of its formation, which to date has led to 120,000 arrests.

And I am equally proud that a more recent project, the opening of a gallery bearing my name at the Imperial War Museum in London, has enabled tens of thousands of visitors to champion bravery through access to the world’s largest collection of Victoria Crosses and George Crosses, the Commonwealth’s most prestigious gallantry awards.

The Giving Pledge is a moral commitment, not a legal contract. However, I consider my pledge to be binding, as I am sure does everyone else who has made a similar promise. The project resulted from conversations that Bill and Miranda Gates and Warren Buffett had with other philanthropists in the US and abroad.

The pledge is made publicly because the founders’ goal is to talk about giving in an open way and to create an atmosphere that can draw more people into philanthropy. I would like to see a situation in which the richest members of our society increasingly believe it to be their obligation to support good causes.

The Giving Pledge was founded in 2010 when 40 US billionaires went public with their promise. Since then, dozens of others have signed up to the cause, and earlier this year it was decided that The Giving Pledge would expand its reach globally. It was this decision that has enabled me and other wealthy Britons to join the project begun on the other side of the Atlantic.

There are some very basic “rules” for those who make the pledge, but it is up to individuals to decide whether they want to donate their wealth during their lifetime, after their death, or a mixture of the two.

It is also entirely up to individuals to decide how much they give and which charities and other organisations they support. The pledge simply asks for an individual to promise more than half of his or her wealth to charitable causes: many have and will continue to exceed this minimum percentage.

The Giving Pledge’s website puts the aims of its founders extremely well: “We live in an exciting time for philanthropy, where innovative approaches and advances in technology have redefined what’s possible. Grassroots movements are proving every day how a single individual, regardless of wealth, can make a lasting impact on the lives of others.”

Similarly, Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, and his wife, who have set up a foundation in their names, have also articulated their reasons for giving away so much of their fortune. “We have been blessed with good fortune beyond our wildest expectations, and we are profoundly grateful.

“But just as these gifts are great, so we feel a great responsibility to use them well. That is why we are so pleased to join in making an explicit commitment to the Giving Pledge,” they have said.

I have never discussed the amount of my wealth, and would never do so. However, it is public knowledge that I have already donated tens of millions of pounds to good causes. While some of my donations have become public, many others will always remain private.

In my will, I have left instructions about how my estate should be dispersed. When I die, I have decided to leave the majority of my assets to a charitable foundation in my name.

I have never been a great believer in inherited wealth. After my death, my family will be trustees of the foundation so that they will be able to enjoy making donations to worthy causes in my name.

What does my family think of this decision? I have discussed it with them over the years and I am glad to say they wholeheartedly support the move. They fully understand why I am so keen to support good causes as part of my commitment to philanthropy.

I also intend, however, to provide well for my family so that they have a financially secure and, hopefully, happy future. Some self-made men and women have declared publicly that they will not leave their children a penny in case it spoils them, but I consider this a little harsh.

I take enormous pleasure from giving something back to society and to making a positive difference to other people’s lives. I feel honoured to put my name to The Giving Pledge and I would be delighted if it encouraged others to make a similar commitment to philanthropy in the future.

Read this article on The Telegraph’s website

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