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Rich Aren’t Following Ted Turner’s Lead Few Take To Heart Call To Give More To Charities

Bully for Ted Turner, the rich are saying, even as they ignore his taunts to part with some of their millions for charity.

Some are just plain tightwads, fellow millionaires are quick to say. Others are content to give up a traditional 10 percent of their earnings, or donate in spurts as they see fit. Most aren’t as impulsive - or as brash - as Turner.

Still, conversations with a half dozen millionaires - along with those who advise them and those who woo them - show that while no checks are pouring into charities as a result of Turner’s move, he has nonetheless struck a chord with the wealthy.

“I’m inspired to give more, and to be more successful financially to create the resources to do good work with,” said Michael Sonnenfeldt, a New York real estate mogul who attended the dinner three weeks ago where Turner pledged to give $100 million a year for a decade to help fund causes of the United Nations.

“Every person in that room … had to personally wonder whether they were giving all that they could,” he said.

Others are less starry-eyed.

“Most people with big money have already made up their minds,” said Alan Greenberg, who made $20 million last year as head of the investment firm Bear, Stearns & Co.

“But he’s a winner, whether in business or in sports. This guy wins. You’ve got to pay attention to him,” Greenberg said.

For years, Turner has chastised the wealthy for not giving away more, specifically targeting Bill Gates, who gave away $135 million of his estimated $40 billion fortune last year, and investor Warren Buffett, who has said he will leave most of his $21 billion fortune to a charitable foundation.

William Gates, Gates’ father and manager of his charitable giving, said Wednesday that his son “doesn’t have a lot of room for being thoughtful and deliberate about his philanthropy” given the demands of his work. “He’s only 42,” he said in an interview. Philanthropy is “secondary.”

Calls to a half dozen major charities - from the United Way to four major U.N. groups - show no major donors lining up behind Turner. Little donations show no upswing either, the charities said.

Still, many people agree with Turner that the rich should do more, especially at a time when wealth has been flowing.

Those worth $50 million or more already give on average 18 percent of their income to charity, compared with under 2 percent for all Americans, according to the American Association of Fund-raising Counsel. Yet only 10 percent of the people in each income category account for 90 percent of all donations. That means that the superrich have a lot more to give.


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