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What you should know about Jack Dorsey’s surprising $1 billion commitment to charity

The Twitter and Square founder is making an unexpected and important philanthropic push in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
Fairfax Media/Getty

Jack Dorsey is making what may be the largest private gift to tackling the coronavirus and its consequences, pledging to spend up to $1 billion as part of an unexpected philanthropic push.

The founder of Twitter and Square announced Tuesday that he would move $1 billion of his own money into a limited liability company (LLC), where the funds would go, in part, to addressing the Covid-19 crisis. Dorsey described the gift as intended to “fund global COVID-19 relief,” but didn’t specify how much of the money would be earmarked for that as opposed to pushing for “girls’ health and education” and a universal basic income, which he said the LLC, called Start Small, would back once the pandemic subsides.

Even if only 10 percent of the money went to Covid work, though, Dorsey would become the country’s biggest public philanthropist during the crisis. Other tech titans, like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Michael Dell, have each so far pledged $100 million.

Billionaire philanthropists like LLCs because they offer the donor flexibility and total control in how the money can be used, including for political donations, for-profit investments, and nonprofit grants. But transparency advocates have long criticized LLCs — which have been established by other tech philanthropists like Mark Zuckerberg, Laurene Powell Jobs, and Pierre Omidyar — for evading some public disclosures about the types of gifts they make. Dorsey is also using a donor-advised fund, which is another opaque approach, to facilitate some grants.

But Dorsey, who does not have a long public record as a philanthropist, is taking steps to mitigate those concerns: He has promised to reveal all the donations he has made on a public spreadsheet, which he tweeted a link to on Tuesday. That said, all disclosures will be voluntary, and there will be some key financial information that will not be disclosed as it would be if Dorsey’s money came from a traditional foundation. The LLC will also not be required to donate 5 percent of its assets each year as would a foundation.

“Why now? The needs are increasingly urgent, and I want to see the impact in my lifetime,” Dorsey tweeted. “I hope this inspires others to do something similar. Life is too short, so let’s do everything we can today to help people now.”

The gift comes in the form of about 20 million shares in Square, which Dorsey said amounts to about 28 percent of his net worth, recently pegged at $3.3 billion. Some billionaires have come under fire for making paltry coronavirus-related donations that sound impressive but are relatively small percentages of their assets. Dorsey said he has given $40 million in the past in mostly anonymous charitable gifts.

The billion dollars could also give Dorsey more political power down the line at a time of growing concern about the role of billionaires in politics. Because this is an LLC, Dorsey has greater flexibility to use the money on advocacy efforts and push for policies such as a universal basic income, which would increase the size of his voice in the political process.

Dorsey’s donation comes amid a broader reckoning about the power of billionaire philanthropists, some of whom are showing more leadership during the pandemic than government officials. While their resources are needed to tackle an unprecedented crisis, these gifts also elevate tech leaders and give them more power than ever. Here’s our look at this phenomenon.

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