How they give: Ben Jacobs, Warren Buffett, Irene Pollin and more

Area and national business people describe their dedication to charitable giving as deeply personal, strategic and unwavering.
By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 20, 2010; 6:20 PM

America may have shaken off the Great Recession months ago, but the subject of wealth and how best to distribute it continues to dominate the national discussion.

Taxes. Unemployment. Housing values. An election. All those factors weigh upon a country of haves and have nots. Yet capitalism has produced enormous fortunes over the past decade, as well as many opinions about what to do with them.

The art of giving is uniquely part of the American character. The Giving Pledge -- Warren Buffett's challenge to his peers to give half their wealth to charity -- brought 40 signatories to his cause and became one of the biggest economic stories of the year.

The Washington Post asked business people and philanthropists, local and national, to talk about their philanthropy. Following is a selection from their responses.

Ben Jacobs

Jacobs is a co-founder of the JBG Companies, a Washington real estate investment firm.

Has the focus of your philanthropy changed since the recession? Yes, the "recession" has had a dramatic and negative effect on individual and institutional capacity and "comfort" for giving; these factors increase the importance of making and fulfilling commitments to not-for-profit organizations whose goals are consistent with our philanthropic decisions.

How do you set priorities for giving? Once our goals are established, we try to identify organizations that provide effective impact using available cost/benefit metrics.

How do you gauge the impact of donations you make? The efficiency of the organizational structure, the extent to which the organization consistently accomplishes its goals and articulated mission and reliable public recognition of the foregoing.

Do you make a point of separating your charity from your politics? Yes.

Warren E. Buffett

Buffett is chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and sits on the board of The Washington Post Co.

Ballpark, how much do you donate each year? Between $1.5 billion and $2 billion - virtually no tax benefit.

Has the focus or amount of your philanthropy changed since the recession? No change.

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