At 91 years young, Doris Buffett, big sister of billionaire and philanthropist Warren Buffett, is on a mission. When she inherited Berkshire Hathaway stock from a family trust in 1996, she dedicated the rest of her life to giving it away—all of it—mostly to individuals in trouble through no fault of their own. Doris is passionate about her responsibilities as a philanthropist. So far she’s given away more than $150 million of her money. She says she wants to give it all away; that she wants the last check she writes to bounce due to “insufficient funds.”
She began the Sunshine Lady Foundation in 1996, helping battered women, sick children, and at-risk kids who otherwise would never have had the chance to go to college, and funding college programs for prison inmates to lower recidivism. And she does it through “retail philanthropy,” often making personal phone calls to those who need help, one by one. Each Sunshine Lady Foundation grant is considered an investment, and the decision to grant funds is always based on an expected successful social return.
In 2006, after Warren Buffett announced that he would be giving away much of his fortune to charity, people started writing letters to him asking for his help. He turned them over to his sister Doris who has been responding to them ever since. Through their joint efforts they established the Letters Foundation, a foundation of last resort that provides humanitarian grants to people experiencing a crisis through no fault of their own, when no other options exist. These one-time grants provide a hand-up to individuals as they work to stabilize their lives.
In 2011, Doris established the Learning By Giving Foundation which began as a program at Davidson College in 2003. The foundation promotes the study of experiential philanthropy at various undergraduate colleges across the United States. The accredited courses help students understand the social and economic roles of the nonprofit sector and philanthropy, and the processes through which social change is funded and implemented across sectors. At the end of the semester, students are given real money to grant to local nonprofits in their community. Doris said the goal of Learning by Giving is to instill in students, “the urge to do things for others all of their lives; to see the need to do something, to be an activist, to work toward social justice.” She believes that this program will not only outlive her, but also create a ripple effect that will inspire generations to come.
Doris has published two books, Giving it All Away: The Doris Buffett Story (2010) and Letters to Doris: One Woman’s Quest to Help Those with Nowhere Else to Turn (2018).
Doris’ energy and enthusiasm are boundless. Among her many other roles, she has been a first grade teacher, domestic violence crusader, political activist, mother and grandmother, and a true and loyal friend to many people.
Thank you Doris!