Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
This June 25, 2009 courtesy photo provided by the Sunshine Lady Foundation shows Doris Buffett, right, with her brother, billionaire Warren Buffett. After Warren Buffett received scores of individual requests for help when he announced that he would gradually give away his fortune, he turned to his big sister Doris Buffett and her Sunshine Lady Foundation to review the requests and to find people struggling through no fault of their own. (AP Photo/The Sunshine Lady Foundation)
Warren Buffett’s sister helps the needy, one request at a time
First Published May 26 2014 11:48 am • Last Updated May 26 2014 02:20 pm

Omaha, Neb. • When Warren Buffett announced in 2006 that he would give away his billions, he was flooded with individual requests for help that still flow in today.

Instead of tossing the letters aside, Buffett packages them up and sends them to his big sister Doris. With the help of seven women, her Sunshine Lady Foundation scrutinizes each request to find people who have come upon bad luck through no fault of their own.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

"She just believes that a lot of people got short straws in life, and she wants to help them," Warren Buffett said.

It’s rare for philanthropists to respond to individual requests, said Northeastern University professor Rebecca Riccio, who teaches philanthropy and interviewed the siblings last year. Buffett, 83, and his 86-year-old sister worked out the unusual arrangement because neither wanted to disregard the requests, but Buffett also wanted to focus on running Berkshire Hathaway.

"I think Warren and Doris do not have it in them to ignore those letters," Riccio said.

Warren Buffett sent his sister $5 million initially to cover the cost of responding to his letters and promised more money if she needed it. The siblings didn’t want to say exactly how much Doris has given to the letter writers so far.

Many of the requests are simple: A man who needed a new glass eye. The grandmother who wanted a tombstone for the three children she lost. A disabled woman who needed a car to visit her daughter and grandchildren.

"These are decent people who just didn’t have the breaks somebody else did," Doris Buffett said.

She said her drive to help people developed during the Great Depression, when she saw people struggling with such basic needs as hunger and shelter. That desire grew as she faced her own disappointments, including four divorces and the loss of a $12 million fortune in the stock market crash of 1987.

Doris Buffett started the Sunshine Lady Foundation in 1996 after inheriting money. Through it, she has also given away $150 million of her own money, focusing primarily on larger programs such as scholarships for domestic violence victims, college education for prison inmates and efforts to help people with mentally illnesses.


story continues below
story continues below

Riccio says Doris Buffett’s personal connections to recipients and her willingness to provide so many small gifts sets her apart.

"She cares about people, not about the prestige or the perception of her as a philanthropist," Riccio said.

Doris Buffett focuses her foundation’s main giving on the communities where she lives: Fredericksburg, Virginia; Wilmington and Beaufort, North Carolina, and Rockport, Maine. But she doesn’t confine her gifts to those places.

Steven Lewicki spent 15 years in prison for a string of bank robberies, but during that time earned his associate’s degree thanks to a college program inside Maine State Prison funded by Doris Buffett’s foundation.

When he was freed, Lewicki finished his bachelor’s degree at the University of Maine at Augusta and got a job with a group that advocates for prisoners.

"I feel an obligation to Doris," Lewicki said. "I feel an obligation to honor her philanthropy and her integrity and her guidance and all of that."

Doris Buffett’s main goal is to provide one-time aid and, whenever possible, connect people with other forms of help. But she knows there are limits to what she can do.

"I can’t change somebody’s life, but I can make it possible for them to do so," she said.

———

Follow Josh Funk online at www.twitter.com/funkwrite

———

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.