Almost as soon as Mark Zuckerberg and his wife made an announcement about plans to give their personal Facebook shares to charity, the commentary began. Many of those comments were positive, applauding the CEO's decision to give back. But some of those comments were critical of the LLC-style arrangement, describing it as a way to avoid paying certain taxes. To my mind, many of these criticisms were primarily published to get page views.
Zuckerberg posted an in-depth explanation that addressed the complaints and cleared up some of the misconceptions. Unfortunately, by the time his rebuttal was posted, many had moved on to other news stories. Here are a few things to know about Zuckerberg's decision to set up a foundation dedicated to "advancing human potential and promoting equality."
Zuckerberg directly addressed the LLC issue in a Facebook post on December 3rd. He said in doing this, the organization will be able to fund nonprofit organizations, make private investments, and participate in policy debates. He confirmed that any profits the organization made would go back into furthering the mission of The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. He also pointed out that if they had transferred their shares to a traditional foundation, they would have received an immediate tax benefit, but by using an LLC they do not.
A Long History of Giving
The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative is actually only the latest of a long series of philanthropic efforts from the couple. In November, Zuckerberg and his wife gave $75 million to San Francisco General Hospital, which was renamed the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. The money will go toward purchasing cutting-edge equipment for the hospital.
You can look at the actual MRI machines and much more that this money is paying for if you click through to that bloated SF Gate slide show. That's real medical equipment that helps real people. Last time I checked, the vast majority of CEOs are busy hoarding their money in off-shore accounts or brazenly making sure they have golden parachutes while firing thousands of low-wage workers. They're not helping real people like Chan-Zuckerberg are with gifts like this.
As a longtime resident of San Francisco, I'll tell you that SF General desperately needed such help. It's a massive boost for the poorest residents of a city that so many media know-it-alls endlessly moan isn't "equal" enough.
Helping Actual Children, In Actual Schools
Over the years, Zuckerberg has also poured a great deal of his money into public schools, including donations to school systems in New Jersey and the Silicon Valley. In New Jersey, Zuckerberg's goal was to turn around Newark's failing public school system. In Menlo Park and East Palo Alto next to the Facebook campus, the funds went directly to many long-ignored schools.
Along with this effort was is a donation toward personalized learning software, which helps each student receive education tailored to their own unique learning style. The high-tech teaching approach learns what a student comprehends by having a student read information and answer questions about it. The end goal is to create a conversation between students and teachers where assignments are doled out based on an individual's learning style.
This is a far cry from the way things have been in the aforementioned Bay Area school districts over the last 50 years. I have friends whose kids go to the East Palo Alto or Menlo Park schools helped by the Facebook money. It may shock you (or not at all), but even in glittering Silicon Valley, thousands of kids were left behind for generations while some of the world's most powerful companies thrived next door. Thanks to Chan-Zuckerberg, that's over, at least to some degree. And you seriously want me to listen to tax criticisms of this latest $45 billion gift without laughing? Please.
Internet Access for All
In November, the couple donated $20 million to a nonprofit that helps provide strong Internet connections in classrooms across the country. The Education Super Highway has already made significant progress in its goals, but there are still 21 million students who lack broadband access. For digital learning technologies to be possible nationwide, Zuckerberg realizes that the number of students with broadband access will need to improve. Most schools today have Internet access, but high-speed broadband is available in less than half of U.S. schools, Zuckerberg has said.
He's also committed to make Internet access available across the world. With the Facebook Connectivity Lab, he's looking for ways to connect remote populations to the Internet using technology like drones, satellites, and lasers. The company regularly shares news updates on its progress, both in achieving connectivity around the globe and in developing new technologies.
Yes, a lot of this is because Facebook wants to add to its user base and make money off the data, but I really don't care at this point. I believe the Internet access is a basic human right, and at least Zuck and Co. is doing something to make that happen.
The Zuckerbergs make every effort to make a difference in the world by contributing to causes they believe in. But I get it. They do so in the media spotlight, which means they'll always have to deal with negative commentary on their efforts. However, for people across the globe, the donations Zuckerberg and his wife have made will bring actual positive changes that improve lives. You can forgive me if I tune out lame criticisms that are mainly designed just to bring page views.