Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveils the company's new location services feature called "Places" during a news conference with staff at the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., , in August 2010.
Updated 6:50 p.m. ET: Facebook filed papers Wednesday to raise $5 billion in its initial public offering of stock. Facebook said it will apply to have its shares listed with the symbol "FB," suggesting it will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The IPO could be the biggest ever for an Internet company.
What will a new generation of Facebook millionaires do with their wealth?
Experts expect charitable causes and nonprofits to be among the side beneficiaries of the minting of 1,000 or more new millionaires from Facebook’s impending initial stock offering.
“When wealth is created like that and folks are holding highly appreciating assets, it’s a great opportunity to start a philanthropic legacy,” says Rob Mitchell, CEO of Atlas of Giving, a company that tracks and forecasts charitable donations across America.
Facebook, founded in 2004, has reportedly supplemented employee salaries with stock incentives over the years. The Silicon Valley-based social media company now has more than 3,000 employees, and many of them will be able to cash in on their stock after Facebook goes public -- typically after a lockup period expires.
"With an IPO you create a liquidity event. These people in theory are just as wealthy today as they were before filing the IPO. But liquidity helps in terms of philanthropy," noted Patrick Rooney, executive director of The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.
He said studies have shown that entrepreneurs are about twice as generous as people who inherit their wealth, and people who are millionaires tend to give a higher share of their income and assets than those who are not.
“Will all the new thousand millionaires give? Absolutely not. But one of things we saw in 2011 was the fact that wealthy people were again interested in donating appreciated assets and specifically stock,” Mitchell said. “One of best ways to give is to give appreciated assets because you can avoid capital gains tax.”
A cue from Zuckerberg
People who track such things can’t recall ever seeing such an immediate influx of wealth in Silicon Valley -- or beyond. The closest similar scenario was when Google went public in August 2004; by some estimates more than 900 employees became instant millionaires, at least on paper.
To lessen their tax burdens, the new Facebook millionaires could contribute some of their stock to a donor-advised fund, a type of public charity that serves as an umbrella giving vehicle. They could also set up a "charitable remainder trust," whereby a chunk of money goes to a charity after a specified time – like upon death – but the donor receives income or interest off the donated assets. In both cases, the donor can avoid capital gains tax and might also be eligible for an income tax deduction.
Employees could take a cue from Facebook’s 27-year-old founder, Mark Zuckerberg, whose net worth pre-IPO has been estimated at more than $17 billion. Zuckerberg, one of the youngest billionaires in the world, has signed on to The Giving Pledge, a campaign launched by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to get America’s superwealthy to pledge to give at least half their fortune to charity. Zuckerberg also donated $100 million to Newark, N.J., schools in 2010.
"People wait until late in their career to give back. But why wait when there is so much to be done?" Zuckerberg said at the time. "With a generation of younger folks who have thrived on the success of their companies, there is a big opportunity for many of us to give back earlier in our lifetime and see the impact of our philanthropic efforts."
Zuckerberg isn’t the only wealthy person who believes the rich should give more to charity.
PNC Wealth Management recently surveyed 555 millionaires and found 70 percent believe they bear a special responsibility in society to help the less fortunate. Sixty-four percent believe they should give substantial sums to charities to improve society.
Facebook didn’t reply to an email request for comment on this story.
Too young to give?
But Robert Frank, who writes about culture and the economy of the wealthy in his The Wealth Report blogin The Wall Street Journal, doesn’t think charities will see an immediate significant impact on charitable giving by Facebook employees.
“Many are still very young so they are still in an accumulation phase of life as opposed to a distribution/legacy phase,” Frank says. ”These are people who, for now, want to change the world through their company rather than through philanthropy.”
Frank says it’s likely that some of the accumulated stock wealth will be funneled into foundations for tax purposes. But that money won’t trickle out to actual groups or grants for many years – or even generations.
“The money will be going to mansions before you see it going to funding for villages in Africa,” he says.
But for charities that do benefit, Rooney says the trend of fewer people attending Mass or other religious services means that the newest generation of millionaires is more likely to give to secular causes than to churches and other religious organizations.
Mitchell and Frank agree that any charities that do reap Facebook dollars are likely to be more niche-focused and mission-oriented. Frank cites education and scientific research in areas such as space, alternative energy and food supply as among the causes technology-driven wealthy people are drawn to.
Indeed, one former employee told Reuters he’s is looking into booking a trip to space once he’s able to cash in on his Facebook shares.
Which is why Frank thinks there will be a “long delay” in Facebook philanthropy.
“People typically don’t start thinking about this stuff (philanthropy) until they’re in ‘50s or ‘60s,” Frank says.
Facebook employees “are going buy a lot of stuff and they’re not going to give away a lot of stuff for a long time. Part of that is where they are in the wealth spectrum and timeline of life.”
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