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NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. billionaires pledging to give away at least half their wealth to charity can turn to the man in charge of Bill Gates' and Warren Buffett's philanthropy for advice -- but he doesn't want their donations.
Since 2008 Jeff Raikes has been chief executive of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the world's largest charitable organizations with a $33 billion endowment funded by Microsoft founder Gates and investor Buffett.
Raikes said the Gates and Buffett Giving Pledge campaign to urge America's rich to give away most of their fortunes during their lifetime or upon their death, which so far has 40 billionaire members, would be a "seminal moment in history."
"If (any of the Giving Pledge members) want to chat with me about what they can do to set up their own foundation or how to focus their foundation on areas that really can make a difference in the world I am more than happy to sit down and chat with folks," he told Reuters in an interview.
The Giving Pledge does not accept money or tell people how to donate their money, but asks billionaires to make a moral commitment to give their fortunes to charity.
Many billionaires taking the pledge have already been active in philanthropy in everything from genetic and cancer research to education, gun control and libraries and the arts. Others may now wonder what to give their vast fortunes to.
But instead of just writing checks, Raikes said it was important these billionaires take on a philanthropic challenge they are passionate about.
"The greatest success from the Giving Pledge will come if these givers, who are incredibly successful talented people, if they become active in philanthropy as well," said Raikes, who took the Gates Foundation helm after nearly three decades at Microsoft where he helped created Microsoft's Office software.
Since the Gates Foundation was founded in 1994 it has given away nearly $23 billion for health and development in poor countries and to improve access for Americans to opportunities they need to succeed in school and life.
Raikes, 52, has overseen the distribution of about $6 billion of that money.
Buffett, who made his fortune with insurance and investment company Berkshire Hathaway, pledged in 2006 to give away 99 percent of his fortune, most to the Gates Foundation, while Bill and Melinda Gates have so far given more than $28 billion to their foundation.
Gates was ranked the second richest man in the world by Forbes magazine this year with $53 billion, while Buffett came in at No. 3 with $47 billion.
Edging Gates out for the number one spot was Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim with $53.5 billion.
Raikes said that while there were many worthy philanthropic causes, the Gates Foundation could not tackle them all.
"We know that we can only do a very, very small number of things and we have to do them very well," he said.
The Gates Foundation, he said, maintains a stringent focus on using science and technology developed in rich countries to help people in poor countries through so-called catalytic philanthropy -- social research and development which, if successful, could be scaled up by private and public industry.
"We will take some risky approaches to try and identify opportunities that will have significant impact," Raikes said.
"If we can prove that it is an innovation, an intervention that can really make a difference, then the private sector will scale it up because they can see a profit opportunity in the long run, or the government sector will scale it up."
"We can only succeed if we can encourage the private sector and/or the public sector to invest in the things that will really make a difference for people," he said.
Editing by Mark Egan and Jerry Norton