The holidays are a time when many of us reflect on the things that we've been given and the opportunities that we have. And when we do that, we are often inspired to turn our gratitude into giving.

In 2017, Americans gave $410 billion to charity, which marked the first time that people in the U.S. have ever surpassed the $400 billion mark for giving in a single year. Just as impressive is the fact that 70% of giving came from individuals, not from corporations.

Hands holding a gift

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In light of this generous time of the year, it's worth hearing from some of the world's richest people about how they approach philanthropy and charitable giving. And while most of us will never know the level of net worth these individuals have, we can all learn a just a little more about how to be generous by looking to them as examples.

Bill Gates

Bill Gates, the primary founder of Microsoft turned philanthropist, currently has a net worth of about $95 billion. Gates and his wife Melinda have already given away nearly $35.8 billion of their wealth through their eponymous foundation. Gates' commitment to improving the health and education of people worldwide and his pledge to give away nearly all of his wealth means Gates puts his money where his mouth is.

In 2006, Gates announced that he'd stop working full-time at Microsoft within two years and devote most of his attention to his foundation. When Gates made the announcement, he shared some wisdom on how wealthy people can give back to society:

Of course, with the success of Microsoft, I've also been given the gift of great wealth. I believe that with great wealth comes great responsibility, a responsibility to give back to society, a responsibility to see that those resources are put to work in the best possible way to help those most in need.

Laurene Powell Jobs

Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, is the sixth-richest woman in the world, and boasts a net worth of about $18.5 billion. Powell Jobs started the Emerson Collective in the early 2000s, which is a private company that invests in a wide range of companies that focus on social justice, education, journalism, health, and immigration.

A 2018 profile in The Washington Post about Powell Jobs said that she's "inventing a new brand of philanthropic power" through the Emerson Collective, and in the piece, she noted that her focus is to use her resources to try to effect change:

Change doesn't happen quickly. It happens slowly, slowly, and then all at once. Sometimes that's 10 years, sometimes it's 20 years, and sometimes you don't live to see it. ... It is my goal to effectively deploy resources. If there's nothing left when I die, that's just fine.

Warren Buffett

The famed investor and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway is not only an icon to individual investors worldwide, he's also a model of giving. In 2006, Buffett committed to begin giving away all of his Berkshire Hathaway stock to philanthropic foundations. Buffett has also pledged to give away 99% of his wealth, valued at $82.4 billion right now, during his lifetime, or once he dies.

Buffett said in his pledge to give away his money that he and his family have more than they could ever want or spend, and that accumulating more things, rather than giving his wealth away, would have a negative effect on his life.

"Too often, a vast collection of possessions ends up possessing its owner. The asset I most value, aside from health, is interesting, diverse, and long-standing friends."

Mark Zuckerberg

The founder and CEO of Facebook has taken a hit to his reputation recently as his company reels from privacy concerns among users as well as Facebook's failure to correctly weed out Russian influence on its platform during the 2016 election. But despite the latest news, Zuckerberg remains committed to philanthropy and has pledged to give away 99% of his Facebook shares during his lifetime, which is a considerable amount considering Zuckerberg has a net worth of $52 billion.

Zuckerberg commented on giving away his shares shortly after his first daughter was born, saying:

Having this child has made us think about all of the things that should be improved in the world for her whole generation. The only way that we reach our full human potential is if we're able to unlock the gifts of every person around the world.

Michael Bloomberg

The founder of Bloomberg, Inc. and former New York City mayor is worth $43.7 billion and has been outspoken about giving away his wealth. In his autobiography, aptly titled Bloomberg by Bloomberg, he wrote that private philanthropy is an "American tradition," and that it's one of the reasons our country has seen the success that it has.

He also added that, "However much people contribute, and whatever it is they give, I've always respected those who try to change the world for the better rather than just complain about it."

Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Chris Neiger has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple, Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), and Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft and has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.