News and analysis
May 29, 2013

Warren and Doris Buffett Offer Giving Advice Online

Eva Russo/Richmond Times-Dispatch/AP Images

Doris Buffett

Now everybody can get free giving advice from Warren Buffett, and possibly some of his family’s money to give away.

Mr. Buffett plans to appear in a six-session online course called “Giving With Purpose,” an offshoot of a series of college programs started by Mr. Buffett’s older sister, Doris, and her grandson, Alex Rozek.

Ms. Buffett and her grandson run the Learning by Giving Foundation, which provides $10,000 grants to groups of college students who spend a semester figuring out where to give the money—as well as absorb readings and other instruction about smart giving. The course is now offered at 30 colleges and universities but now will be available free online.

“We wondered how do we keep expanding this beyond 30 schools without creating a big organization,” says Mr. Rozek.

Then they realized that the rise in massive open online courses, known as MOOCs, offered an answer.

With the help of Rebecca Riccio, who teaches an effective-giving course at Northeastern University, and Maggie Johnson, a Google executive and trustee of the Learning by Giving Foundation, Mr. Rozek is putting the finishing touches on “Giving With Purpose,” which provides much of the information offered in the in-person classes.

Reviewing Proposals

People who register for the course, which is expected to start in mid-July, can view it and obtain a certificate of accomplishment by completing all six sessions. Alternatively, people can register for the course individually or as a team in order to compete for grants that will go to nonprofits.

The Learning by Giving Foundation has yet to determine how many grants will be available or how much will be donated, but it will ask students and teams to write proposals on behalf of charities in their communities that deserve the money, based on what they learn in the online course. They will also be asked to score other proposals. The charities with the highest scores will receive the money.

“The whole point of the MOOC was to take some very critical components of what our professors teach, distill them down, and get a lot more money out to communities,” Mr. Rozek says. “Become a grant maker with our money.”

Results and Sustainability

Mr. Buffett and his sister will appear in one course session about the motivation to give.

Ms. Riccio says the online course will teach people how to choose which charities to support “in a way that is not overwhelming.” It advocates finding charities to support based on their relevance, impact, sustainability, and excellence.

“If you just keep those four things in mind,” she says, “you can run through a checklist of what you are looking for in organizations.”

To register for the Giving With Purpose MOOC, go to the Learning by Giving Foundation’s Web site at

Send an e-mail to Holly Hall.