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Buffett's Gift: Starting a New Page in the History of Giving to Charity

I'm Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Americans gave an estimated two hundred sixty thousand million dollars to charity last year. That was an increase of six percent over two thousand four. The Giving USA Foundation says about half the increase resulted from giving after natural disasters. Hurricane Katrina and other severe storms hit the Gulf Coast. There was the earthquake in Pakistan, and the effects of the Indian Ocean tsunami.

The United States has more than one million philanthropic organizations, including churches and other religious groups. Individual giving is the single biggest way American charities get money. More than three-fourths of their money last year came from individuals.

But no one has ever given more than Warren Buffett is about to give. The seventy-five-year-old investor is worth an estimated forty-four thousand million dollars. This week he announced he will give most of that away.

The majority is to go to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to improve health and education around the world. In all, five organizations will receive shares in his Berkshire Hathaway holding company in Nebraska.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy calls Mister Buffett's gift "the largest in philanthropic history." The newspaper says Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, held the record until now.

The word philanthropy comes from Greek and Latin. It means a love of humankind, especially as shown through an act like giving to charity.

One early American philanthropist was Benjamin Franklin. When he died in seventeen ninety, he left some of his wealth to the cities of Philadelphia and Boston.

Another was Andrew Carnegie. The Carnegie Steel Company made him the world’s richest man. But in the early nineteen hundreds he gave away most of his money. He gave money to build more than two thousand public libraries. He started organizations to further scientific research and other knowledge and to support international peace.

Today, American philanthropists include the Hungarian-born George Soros. His Open Society Institute supports activities in more than fifty countries. But he is also known for his activism in American politics.

Another modern-day philanthropist is the media personality Oprah Winfrey. Her Oprah’s Angel Network supports non-profit groups.

Still another is Larry Ellison, chief of the software company Oracle. He was in the news this week -- not for giving, but for taking back an offer.

Mister Ellison had offered one hundred fifteen million dollars to Harvard University to create a global health foundation. He has now cancelled the gift after the resignation of Harvard President Larry Summers. Reports say he is expected to make another offer in the near future.

IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Nancy Steinbach. To learn more about Warren Buffett's gift, go to and listen Monday at this time to the DEVELOPMENT REPORT. I’m Steve Ember.