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Online course lets students give money away

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Rick Wilking/Reuters/File

(Read caption) Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett is gradually giving away all of his $58 billion. An online course this summer lets participants decide how to give away $100,000 of his sister's fortune.

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A free online course that started July 15 will offer students the chance to learn about giving from Warren Buffett and help decide how to spend more than $100,000 of his sister's money.

More than 4,000 people have already signed up for the course that will also feature philanthropic advice from baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr. and the founders of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. Boston Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner and journalist Soledad O'Brien are other featured guests. The amount being given away could grow if more students sign up.

Mr. Buffett and his older sister, Doris Buffett, will be featured in the first class to talk about their motivation for philanthropy. Warren Buffett is gradually giving away all of his $58 billion Berkshire Hathaway stock while Doris Buffett has already given more than $150 million away en route to her goal of redistributing all her wealth before she dies.

"The trick is not to have her give it away faster than I make it," Warren Buffett joked because his family's wealth is tied to the Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate he runs.

Each one of the big-name givers will be featured in videos at the end of each of the six class sessions discussing an aspect of philanthropy.

But everyone involved with the course agrees that the fact students get a chance to give away real money may be more important than the famous speakers because it makes the lessons more powerful.

"It's an experience that gives profound insight into deciding how we meet the needs of our society," said Rebecca Riccio, the Northeastern University professor who will teach the course.

The Giving With Purpose online course is modeled after a class that has been taught at more than 30 universities that allows students to give away $10,000 after evaluating several nonprofits and learning about effective giving. This online offering allowed Doris Buffett's Sunshine Lady foundation to expand the classes without adding staff to manage the program.

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