What do you have in common with Warren Buffett, the world's second-richest man? You, too, can make a difference in the world right now, while you're still here to see it. And you don't have to have a billion dollars!

Recently Buffett, who is chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, announced that he is donating 85 percent of his amassed $37 billion fortune to five foundations. This is the largest donation ever given to foundations. The most sizable gift is going to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Buffett plans to give the Gates Foundation 5 percent of his total pledge each year, with the first donation expected to be approximately $1.5 billion.

Beyond its sheer size, two things make this particular donation especially important: 1) Buffett is giving it while he is still alive to see the benefits, and 2) he is entrusting the funds to a foundation capable of distributing and maximizing the overall impact.

So, what does this have to do with you? The fact is, you don't need great wealth to give back to your community or support a cause that is important to you. Charitable giving by Oregonians recently topped a cumulative $1 billion - an amount that was predominantly made up of thousands of modest contributions.

Anything you give to a particular cause has an impact, and there are ways to help make sure your gift goes the farthest. By selecting a foundation or philanthropic organization that already has a system in place to meet a community's needs, you can help your dollars go where they can do the most good.

Buffett chose The Gates Foundation to carry out his wishes because it has established mechanisms and research in place to effectively make the most of Buffett's funds. As he said to the Gateses, 'You can give it away better than I can.'

Here in Oregon, charitable organizations such as The Oregon Community Foundation and others have tools available to help donors reach their goals. Depending on the size of your gift, a foundation can help you create your own fund or support an existing program with proven results. Community foundations also provide you with expertise, professionalism and a broad range of giving opportunities to meet your interests. They conduct extensive research to assess conditions throughout the state and work with others to maximize charitable resources.

Warren Buffett's gift is a landmark one. It's also a reminder that anyone can make a difference in a person's life right now, and be able to see the results. Whatever amount you have to give, an established community foundation can help you make sure it's working hard for your causes.

Greg Chaillé, Portland, is president of The Oregon Community Foundation and a member of the board of directors for the Council on Foundations. For more information, visit or call 503-227-6846.

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