The most generous among America’s richest billionaires give away more than 10% of their fortunes. Some of them are doing their best to give away all of it — or at least as much as they can while they’re still alive.
There are, of course, plenty of wealthy people who some think don’t give away enough. On the other end of that spectrum are people like Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife MacKenzie Scott, a newbie to the billionaire class who has established herself as the most generous person in the post-COVID-19 world. This article shines a light on people like her, Bill and Melinda Gates and many others who are giving back.
Using data from Forbes’ America’s Top Givers list, GOBankingRates identified the billionaires who set an example for others by giving away big sums of money.
MacKenzie Scott’s $5.83 billion in lifetime giving isn’t particularly impressive compared to the likes of Warren Buffett, but he’s been a zillionaire forever. Scott only joined the world’s richest billionaires upon finalizing her divorce from Jeff Bezos in 2019. During the short time between then and now, she has out-donated every other billionaire by a mile. She gave out more grants in six months than the Gates Foundation awards in a year, and the Gates Foundation is like the Walmart of philanthropy. When the Black Lives Matter protests erupted in the summer of 2020, Scott gave almost $1.7 billion to 119 racial and social justice organizations. In December of the same year, she announced she’d donated about $4.2 billion to nearly 400 organizations across all 50 states.
MacKenzie Scott is the new kid in town who everybody in the billionaire club has their eye on. Warren Buffett, however, has been there for a long time — and when it comes to giving money away, there is no close second to the Oracle of Omaha. Buffett has offloaded nearly $41 billion over the course of his long and storied career as the boss of Berkshire Hathaway. A lot of that is funneled through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with billions more worth of stock going to philanthropic foundations established by his children and late wife. Along with Bill Gates, Buffett launched the Giving Pledge in 2010, the ultimate rich givers club.
Bill and Melinda Gates
Warren Buffett has given away more of his personal wealth than anyone, but Bill and Melinda Gates hold the distinction of helming the largest private charitable foundation in the world. It is through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, after all, that so much of Buffett’s money — and that of so many others — is transformed into grants that are ready for distribution to organizations on the ground. The foundation gives about $5 billion in grants every year and the Gateses themselves have given away nearly $30 billion of their own money. During the pandemic, they shifted the foundation’s priorities toward COVID-19 suppression and relief.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have given tens of billions of dollars away to charity — admirable, to say the least. But both Gates and Buffett have also managed to hang onto more than $100 billion each. George Soros, on the other hand, is one of the rare lopsided billionaires who has given away more than he has kept. He’s worth about $8.6 billion but he’s donated almost double that amount — about $16.8 billion in lifetime giving. A politically polarizing individual, the hedge fund tycoon’s pet causes often focus on racial justice and social change.
In 2020, Forbes listed George Kaiser among a tiny sliver of billionaires who gave away 20% of their fortunes or more — it’s the most exclusive and generous group that Forbes recognizes. He inherited his family’s oil empire in the 1960s, made a fortune and gave a fortune away. That donated fortune consists of about $1.3 billion, which Kaiser distributed through his George Kaiser Family Foundation. His philanthropy focuses mostly on early childhood education, but he’s given more than $100 million to revitalize the arts district in Tulsa, Oklahoma, alone. During COVID-19, his foundation delivered hundreds of thousands of meals in the city.
Donald Bren is America’s richest real estate mogul. Through his Irvine Company, he owns 115 million square feet of real estate, including 125 apartment complexes and 550 office buildings, mostly in Southern California. His pet causes are education and conservation, and he’s flooded both of those causes with cash. He gave $240 million to SoCal schools and universities in the neighborhood of his empire, and over the years, his company has donated 50,000 acres of protected parkland.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is one of the world’s biggest givers — Forbes estimates he’s donated more than $11 billion over the years. Like Soros, Bloomberg is a politically divisive figure. A lifelong Democrat, Bloomberg switched his party affiliation to Republican, then to Independent, then back to Democrat. His most passionate charitable causes — climate change and gun control — are as polarizing as he is, but he also donated $1 billion to tobacco cessation, $100 million to historically Black medical school scholarships and $300 million to COVID-19 relief.
Like George Soros, Chuck Feeney gave away more of his fortune — far more — than he kept. It’s hard to imagine, in fact, that anyone has ever donated themselves into a worse financial position. And Feeney did it on purpose. According to Forbes, the Duty Free Shoppers retail magnate spent decades trying as hard as he could to give away enough money to die broke. He launched the Giving While Living pledge, which inspired Gates and Buffett to create the Giving Pledge. After giving away $8 billion, nearly half of which went to education, it’s believed that Feeney has less than $2 million left.
Lynn and Stacy Schusterman
Lynn and Stacy Schusterman are the wife and daughter of the late oil magnate Charles Schusterman, whose fortune they use to run their philanthropic foundation. The duo is on a roll. In 2020, the foundation’s grantmaking more than doubled to $400 million. The organization is a major supporter of Feeding America and its nationwide network of food banks. They also give generously to causes that support affordable housing, and they shifted their priorities to COVID-19 relief during the pandemic. In all, they’ve donated $1.84 billion, more than half of what they have.
Michael and Susan Dell
The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation contributed $100 million during the pandemic — $80 million to healthcare support and $20 million to COVID-19 treatment research and development. The couple also pledged a gift of $100 million over 10 years to help lower-income students improve their graduation rates at the University of Texas at Austin. That’s where Michael Dell began selling computers out of his dorm room before dropping out at 19 years old to found one of the most important computer companies in history. Together, the couple has donated $2.25 billion.
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