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How the other half gives

Have you ever wondered just how much super-rich people give to charity? You see them at political fundraisers and hanging out with the big Bill foundations: Bill & Melinda Gates or Bill Clinton. Bono and Brangelina are often covered by the press for doing stuff in Africa. And of course, there’s Oprah giving away houses and cars… but what about all those newly minted tech billionaires and Hollywood types? How generous are they?

For the super rich, giving away a few thousand dollars at a fundraiser is about the equivalent of you buying a cup of coffee for a homeless person, no?

[More: Plan your philanthropy: How to make the most of your charitable donation]

Enter The Giving Pledge, which includes over 90 billionaire families and individuals in the United States who have committed to giving away 99% of their wealth before they die. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg have all signed on, along with Oracle founder Larry Ellison, Star Wars creator George Lucas, media mogul Ted Turner and the first employee of eBay…Canadian-born Jeff Skoll.

Aside from the leadership of the Giving Pledge, we rounded up a list of a few big philanthropic spenders of 2012. We calculated the equivalent amount of money the average Canadian with a net worth of $190,200 (according to StatsCan 2012 figures) would have to donate in order to feel like the same level of benefactor!

[More: Giving money to a charity to reduce taxes: How to do it]

1) Warren Buffett, net worth: $46 billion

2012 donations: $3.09 billion (6.7% of his net worth)

Would feel like you donating: $12,743

The Oracle of Omaha and head of Berkshire Hathaway is legendary for his generous philanthropy. In 2012, he chose the three charities founded by each of his kids as the recipients of his largesse. $3.09 billion in shares were pledged to the NoVo Foundation (founded by son Peter); the Sherwood Foundation (founded by daughter Alice); and his son Howard’s charity, conveniently called the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. Yep, that’s $1.03 billion to each. Thanks, Pops.

2) Mark Zuckerberg, net worth: $14 billion

2012 donations: $500 million (3.57% of his net worth)

Would feel like you donating: $6,790

The CEO of Facebook gave $498.8 million to be exact, in the form of 18 million Facebook shares to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation for projects in education and health.

[More: he tax benefits of charitable donations and financial gifts]

3) Sheryl Sandberg, net worth: $1.6 billion

2012 donations: $10 million (6.25% of her net worth)

Would feel like you donating: $11,887

The COO of Facebook is one of the wealthiest self-made women in the world. Ms. Sandberg, who earns a base salary of around $300,000 a year, donated $10 million in 2012. Pretty impressive, considering most of us find it challenging to give 10% of our annual income. Of course, her closet full of Facebook shares makes it a little easier.

4) Pierre Omidyar, net worth: $8.2 billion

2012 donations: $441.3 million (5.38% of his net worth)

Would feel like you donating: $10,232

The founder of eBay gave $441.3 million of eBay stock to a number of charities throughout the year. He also founded Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm that donates to charities, often with an angle in technology.

5) Carl Icahn, net worth: $14 billion

2012 donations: $150 million (1.07% of his net worth)

Would feel like you donating: $2,035

The financier and shareholder activist invests big stakes in public companies and then pushes them to become more accountable (and profitable) for their shareholders. He directed his $150 million to the Mount Sinai School of Medicine for research.

[More: To give is to receive: Why you should give even when money is tight]

6) Phil Knight, net worth: $14 billion

2012 donations: $125 million (0.89% of his net worth)

Would feel like you donating: $1,692

The Chairman and co-founder of Nike, Inc. pledged his $125 million to the Oregon Health & Science University Foundation, in order to help create a cardiovascular institute. Nike is headquarted in Portland, Oregon.

7) David Geffen, net worth: $5.6 billion

2012 donations: $100 million (1.78% of his net worth)

Would feel like you donating: $3,385

The Hollywood film producer and record executive became the biggest donor of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) this year with his $100 million pledge in medical school scholarships.

8) Estate of Guy David Gundlach, total value: $150 million

2012 donations: $150 million (100% of his estate)

Would feel like you bequeathing: $190,200

The former insurance salesman turned Hollywood producer died in 2011 at the age of 56. He left his entire $150 million fortune including real estate holdings to The Elkhart County Community Foundation in Indiana where he grew up. The foundation serves about 200,000 people across small towns and villages.

Give like you’re rich

As you can see, you don’t need to write a million dollar cheque to be a significant donor – it’s all relative and for charities, every little bit helps. However, if you are now feeling like your net worth is lacking zeros, check out How Rich Am I? The online calculator will give you an interesting perspective on how comparatively wealthy you actually are and make you realize the impact of your charitable giving. As Gloria Steinem said, “It is more rewarding to watch money change the world, than to watch it accumulate.” is a free personal finance and education site for women.

Nothing contained herein is intended to provide personalized financial, legal or tax advice. Before implementing any financial strategy, you should obtain information and advice from your financial, legal and/or tax advisers who are fully aware of your individual circumstances.

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