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Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com and one of the world's wealthiest individuals, has been relatively silent about his charitable intentions in the past. Now, however, with a very public tweet, his is indicating the direction he may be taking in his philanthropic efforts.
The announcement came in an unusual way: Bezos posted a tweet soliciting advice on where to concentrate his philanthropy. The open-source call for ideas did not provide clues to how much he will eventually donate or when, but he asked what people thought about the value of helping people who are currently in need. He pointed out his company's support for Mary's Place, a Seattle-area nonprofit that aids homeless women, which will share offices in Amazon's downtown Seattle headquarters.
By asking for feedback on Twitter, Bezos has indicated he wants to hear from people on the front lines of charitable work, says Melissa Berman, president of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. It also, she said, sets a high bar for what sort of effort he’ll make."Going public in a tweet creates a high set of expectations," she said. "People may well be disappointed if they don’t see anything significant."
Ms. Berman said focusing on immediate needs often doesn’t have a lasting impact. But there are exceptions. For instance, devoting funds to combat early childhood malnutrition could pay dividends in public health and education over time.
Many current philanthropic efforts have set audacious goals, envision a long legacy of work, and attempt to incorporate a scientific, data-driven approach to giving, said Benjamin Soskis, a research associate at the Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy.
Bezos, on the other hand, has taken a more humble approach. By suggesting his wealth should go to immediate needs, says Soskis, Bezos is responding to a more "primal" charitable urge.
Some have criticized Bezos’s low-profile giving. A Seattle Times story in 2012, for instance, called the business titan a "minor player" in local philanthropy.
Unlike some other tech billionaires, such as his Seattle neighbors Bill and Melinda Gates, Mr. Bezos has not signed the Giving Pledge, a promise made by 169 ultra-wealthy people that they will give away most of their fortunes during their lives.