Jeff Bezos Wants Ideas for Philanthropy, So He Asked Twitter

You’re an astronomically wealthy tech mogul who has mastered the art of getting people to spend money with your company over the internet. How do you come up with fresh ideas for giving some of your fortune away?

If you’re Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of, you fire up Twitter, naturally.

On Thursday, Mr. Bezos sent a tweet to his more than 222,000 followers asking for suggestions for philanthropic giving. He specifically asked for ideas that could help the world in the near term, a contrast to long-term personal investments he has made in for-profit companies with social impact, like Blue Origin, a space firm, and The Washington Post.

Mr. Bezos wrote, “I’m thinking I want much of my philanthropic activity to be helping people in the here and now — short term — at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact.”

As an example of the kind of near-term effort he has in mind, Mr. Bezos singled out a commitment Amazon recently made to provide a homeless shelter for families, Mary’s Place, with a permanent home in a new Amazon office building that will be built starting later this year.

The prospect of someone with Mr. Bezos’s wealth — he is the second-richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, with a fortune of well over $80 billion — increasing his giving was greeted enthusiastically by people who work in philanthropy. His approach is unusual compared with many big philanthropists from the technology field, like Bill Gates, a founder of Microsoft, whose foundation has tackled long-term global health problems like malaria, among other challenges.

“I would call it surprising, but welcome,” said Jacob Harold, the president of Guidestar, a national database of nonprofits. “It’s rare for big-dollar donors to be honest about their desire for short-term results.”

Mr. Harold said that he “would be worried if every donor was saying this,” but that Mr. Bezos’s approach could have a meaningful effect.

Mr. Bezos did not say on Twitter how much money he planned to commit to philanthropic giving. Given the magnitude of his wealth and the generosity of others in technology like Mr. Gates, his philanthropy has been relatively modest. He and his family have donated $15 million to Princeton University, his alma mater, and recently gave $35 million to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, the largest donation in that institution’s history.

Mr. Bezos has also characterized Blue Origin, the for-profit space company that he is funding with about $1 billion of his wealth annually, as an effort to help save Earth in the long run by providing means to move heavy industry off the planet.

Mr. Bezos asked people to reply to his post with their ideas. A little more than five hours after his request, there were more than 3,600 such replies, including suggestions for contributing to affordable housing, veterans’ organizations and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender causes.

Larry Brilliant, the acting chairman of the Skoll Global Threats Fund, a philanthropy created by Jeff Skoll, one of eBay’s founders, said that crowdsourcing philanthropic ideas had had mixed success in large part because of the challenge of identifying ones that have promise.

“The denominator of ideas you will get in, the vast majority of ideas which are not good, not viable, will flood this process,” said Mr. Brilliant, who formerly ran Google’s philanthropic arm.

Full story at: New York Times