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At the end of last month, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, surpassed Bill Gates as the richest man in the world.

Bezos has faced criticism in the past for abstaining from large-scale philanthropic activity, and the recent news has brought on another wave of that criticism (see here and here).

As he accumulates more and more money, people are waiting for announcements about a giving pledge or charitable campaign. That such an announcement remains pending has stirred outrage among more than a few.

It has been noted, for example, that Bezos has not signed onto The Giving Pledge, a well-publicized pact among 16 American billionaires, including Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates, to give away over half of their fortunes in the course of their lifetimes.

Such grand-scale, widely publicized pledges are as expected as they are standard among people with Bezos’ degree of wealth, although the question of how that money is actually being used seems to concern people less.

And Bezos has announced nothing of the kind.

However, the billionaire has not been silent about his philanthropic plans.  On the contrary, it seems that he has put more thought into the process than many others who have donated large sums off-the-bat to established charities and pledges.  

As our readers may recall, Bezos posted a Tweet back in June asking his followers for suggestions about short-term charitable endeavors.

“This tweet is a request for ideas,” he wrote, “I’m thinking of a philanthropy strategy that is the opposite of how I mostly spend my time – working on the long term. For philanthropy, I find I’m drawn to the other end of the spectrum: the right now.”

Bezos’ unconventional plans for philanthropy take on even more significance in light of his new status: in terms of dollars, Bezos now has more power than anyone in the world to shape the structure of the philanthropic world.

And, while other billionaires have tended to stick to the “long-term” and systemic “root cause” changes, Bezos’ interest in the “here and now… at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact” has the potential to change the way philanthropy is undertaken in the years to come.

As my fellow Philanthropy Daily contributor Eduardo Andino has noted before, Jeff Bezos might be tired of giving for “systems-level” impact because he has already changed the world at a systems level through his businesses. Or perhaps, as I’ve noted previously, Bezos is cautiously and thoughtfully beginning to plan for charitable work which will intentionally go against precedent to focus on direct and immediate impact.

If this is the case, then Bezos has the capacity to do far more with his money than pledge to give a certain percent of it away. He has the power to set significant new precedents for the way that Big Philanthropy is practiced in America.

We will see…

Photo credit: ptufts via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC

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