I've never been a huge fan of corporate charitable giving, which usually comes in the form of a gift from shareholders to whatever pet cause the chairman or CEO of the company wishes to champion. There are wonderful charitable causes out there, but how hard is it to be generous with other people's money?
The program ended in 2003, following a campaign by pro-life activists against Berkshire subsidiary The Pampered Chef to protest the large portion of the company's charitable giving that went to reproductive-rights charities -- an issue that Chairman Warren Buffett champions. The rationale for ending the program was that its continued existence harmed Pampered Chef's independent consultants, a condition that Berkshire's management rightly considered unfair. (Please, please, please understand that while I welcome reader mail, I am completely uninterested in receiving an email regarding your views on abortion.)
So for the last two years, Berkshire Hathaway has gone largely without a charitable-donations program at the corporate level. But now that Warren Buffett has announced that he will donate more than 85% of his fortune, currently valued at $44 billion, it occurs to me that Berkshire Hathaway has just created an unbelievable competitive advantage for its subsidiary companies.
By the time Buffett is done giving to charities, mainly the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (by the way, why isn't it "William"?), more than 30% of all Berkshire shares will be held by charities that focus on issues ranging from providing health care in Africa to rebuilding libraries in Louisiana and Mississippi that were lost in Katrina.
Essentially, 30% of every dollar of profit generated by Berkshire companies will go toward the common good. Tell me that's not a good marketing message. By the way, this model is somewhat replicable at Motley Fool Inside Value pick Microsoft
Just imagine the marketing possibilities for these companies, owned 100% by Berkshire Hathaway.
"Switch to GEICO, and help global health!"
"Jordan's Furniture: Where your new living room can help cure diphtheria!"
"Acme Brick: Rebuilding libraries, one brick at a time!"
"Helzberg Diamonds: 30% more likely to help cure AIDS than other jewelers. (Except for Ben Bridge and Borsheim's.)"
I mean, come on! In one fell swoop, Warren Buffett has managed to place Berkshire stock into a foundation with professional management and investing experts. The assets in place are large enough that Berkshire's stock won't likely see a heightened level of selling pressure, since the Gates Foundation has plenty of other assets. Perhaps unwittingly, Buffett has also raised Berkshire Hathaway to the highest level of socially conscious investments.
Not too shabby. Now, if you'll pardon me, I've got to go buy some See's Candy. You know, just to do my part.
Bill Mann owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and Ford debt. When he dies, he intends to donate his body to science fiction. He is the co-analyst of the Motley Fool Hidden Gems small-cap investing service. He invites you to take a free trial today!