Mark Zuckerberg: Philanthropic Wonder-kid; Evil-1%er or “Bumbling billionaire?”

Judging from the media scrutiny in some quarters, it must be tough being Mark Zuckerberg. Following the birth of his first child, and with thoughts of the world they would grow-up in, the young wealthy entrepreneur, together with his wife, pledges to give away 99% of his Facebook shares to good causes - and finds his altruistic gesture met with scepticism; his motives and intentions questioned.

Below are several links to U.S. media articles which give a range of perspectives and some context to ' the gift' and the reactions to it. Until the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is up and running it is impossible to say who the real beneficiaries will be. However, the focus of these articles is speculation on the Zuckerberg’s actions and motives; demonstrating to other ambitious individual philanthropists, and any major player in the world of charitable giving and corporate social action, the importance of reputation.

Whatever your view, one theme runs throughout the media comment and analysis: trust and authenticity. These are the values that are being questioned. In their own way each of the authors are challenging the veracity of Mark Zuckerberg's gesture based on his past actions and behaviour. What is clear is that it is not enough to be seen to be doing good, you have to be good in order to win – and keep - hearts and minds. Should you fail to "walk the walk and talk the talk" the resulting scrutiny and adverse publicity has the potential to do more damage to you or your brand than if you had simply done nothing at all. Several of the articles mention Zuckerburg's earlier "Challenge Fund" that was supposed to revolutionise education in Newark Schools .

To reference an Australian phrase: "don't piss in my pocket and tell me it's raining"; meaning don't insult my intelligence and tell me something is so when it clearly isn't. Quite rightly people have a low opinion of those who exploit good causes and not-for-profits for commercial gain and kudos whilst giving very little in return: the "empty shell" phenomenon. During the course of my online research work, I frequently come across many examples of this “looks great, but empty inside” syndrome.  

The most admired companies, charities and individuals continue to be those with clear values, whose actions are consistent with those values; those are the brands and individuals we tend to trust and support.  It would seem that Mark Zuckerberg is experiencing a credibility gap between his declared motives and intentions and how they are perceived; it will be interesting to see if, having learned from past mistakes, the Chan Zuckerman Initiative will be his salvation and a great force for change or an opportunity missed.

Kerry Orr

Researcher on cross-sector collaboration and high-impact philanthropy

Here are some of the various article links: this gives some history and insight on previous activity. this in my opinion is a particularly good article.