Fans of philanthropy around the world gave Mark Zuckerberg a collective slow clap on Tuesday night when he committed to donating nearly $500 million worth of Facebook stock to charity. The 18 million shares of the company will go to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which distributes funds to all kinds of charities, many of them local. Last year, the foundation gave money to everybody from American Atheists, Inc. to the U.S. Treasury. It's unclear why Zuckerberg chose the Silicon Valley Community Foundation -- maybe he wanted to avoid the trouble and the inevitable criticism that comes with having to choose a specific cause. This is, after all, the same billionaire that wears the same clothes every day so that he doesn't have to waste time picking an outfit in the morning.
Tuesday's donation marks Zuckerberg's biggest philanthropic gesture yet, but it's not his first. In 2010, he won a hug from Oprah for donating $100 million in Facebook stock to the public school system in Newark, New Jersey. In the two years since, the gift has proved to be a more complicated commitment, especially since Hurricane Sandy battered the region. It still earned Zuck all kinds of good press, which was a novelty for the sometimes awkward entrepreneur, and apparently made quite an impression as well. Since then, Zuckerberg has joined his fellow billionaires in signing up for the Giving Pledge, an initiative set up by Bill Gates that encourages the mega wealthy to donate most of their money to charity. Zuckerberg also followed in Steve Jobs's footsteps earlier this year by lowering his CEO salary to just $1 a year, starting in 2013.
One question that we have to ask on account of recent controversy is why Zuckerberg chose to make his contributions to charity in Facebook stock. One one hand, it's kind of a clever move since it provides a little bit of free marketing for the company and makes it almost seem like Facebook is making the gift via Zuckerberg. On the other hand, it could end up being disastrous for the foundation, since Facebook stock hasn't exactly held its value well since the company's IPO in May. The most reasonable explanation, however, is that Mark Zuckerberg entire fortune is made of Facebook stock -- that's about 444 million shares with an option for another 60 million -- and he's already promised not to sell any of it. Giving it away just gets easier every time, though.