THE BLOG
12/14/2010 11:45 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

'Tis the Season: The Inspiring Generosity of Billionaire Philanthropists

Here's a headline you don't see everyday: "More U.S. Billionaires Pledge to Give Away Wealth."

While it may sound like another Miracle on 34th Street, the story is real. Nearly 60 wealthy individuals and their families have joined Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Berkshire Hathaway chief Warren Buffett and promised to give away at least half their wealth to charity. So far, the amount committed to "The Giving Pledge" exceeds tens of billions of dollars.

Talk about getting into the holiday spirit.

The list of givers is diverse and includes several people who have been known to live life well. Oracle founder and America's Cup yachting champion Larry Ellison? He's joined. So has reformed junk bond king Michael Milken and serial entrepreneur Barry Diller. In addition to these people, others including talk show host Oprah Winfrey, one of America's most generous celebrities, have been courted.

Cynics may roll their eyes, but the generosity of those willing to part with their wealth is inspiring. Consider their timing: It's one thing to give money away when you're king of the world and everything is going well. But it's an altogether different gesture to give when times are rough. In addition to money, the wealthy are also giving their time and expertise, too. The latest to agree to The Giving Pledge is a young man who has yet to enjoy the fruits of his wealth, 26-year old Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook.

Why would so many wealthy people go so far to help so many? I think the answer is obvious to anyone who has ever contributed to a cause, a charity or a friend in need: There's more to life than doing well; to be truly rich you have to do good too.

Think about it: every day we work hard at doing well. We strive to succeed at the office and prevail in the marketplace. This is true whether you spend life in the fast line or takes things a bit slower. In return for doing well, we are rewarded. Money, power and prestige may come our way. But does this make us rich? Rarely. In addition to success, we must strive for significance.

Where can you start? How about the world around you? In most of the United States it's cold this time of year, so shelters, soup kitchens and local charities have acute needs for gently used clothes and blankets. So do organizations dedicated to feeding the hungry. If you cupboard is full, please take a moment and consider donating a few items to a local pantry. If you are not sure where to give, check the "government" or "charities" section of your local yellow pages, or Google, of course.

In addition to those in desperate need, you can also do a world of good by helping those trying valiantly to better their lives. For example, consider donating business wear to Dress for Success, the Salvation Army or Goodwill Industries, where I serve on the board of directors for the Silicon Valley Chapter. If you have not been to a local Salvation Army office or Goodwill Industries chapter lately, you'll be surprised by the wide range of services provided. At our Goodwill Chapter, for example, we offer vocational training, educational assistance and job placement help. We also offer recycling assistance and more. Any contribution--big or small--helps us help others.

If money is a consideration, you can always donate your time. In fact, there are nearly 2 million charitable organizations that would welcome your support. For a better idea of who needs what, check out CharityNavigator.org.

You don't have to be a billionaire to make a difference, just someone who cares. Rich or poor, we can all light up the world -- our corner of it, at least.

Here's hoping that everything you do well turns out good, and everything good brings joy to all.

Happy holidays and thanks for reading.

Inder Sidhu is the Senior Vice President of Strategy & Planning for Worldwide Operations at Cisco, and the author of Doing Both: How Cisco Captures Today's Profits and Drives Tomorrow's Growth. Author proceeds from sales of Doing Both go to charity. Follow Inder on Twitter at @indersidhu.