Jeff Bezos tops list of 'most charitable' donors in U.S. in 2020

Jeff Bezos tops the 2020 list of ‘most charitable’ donors in the U.S. by giving $10billion of his $192billion fortune to his OWN ‘earth fund’ after his ex-wife Mackenzie comes in at No. 2 with $5.7 billion

  • Jeff Bezos topped 2020 list of wealthy donors by giving $10billion to earth fund
  • The Amazon billionaire’s donation of $10billion launched the Bezos Earth Fund
  • Bezos, who last week announced he was stepping down as Amazon CEO to devote more time to philanthropy, also contributed $100m to Feeding America
  • Feeding America is an organization that supplies more than 200 food banks
  • Coming in at No. 2 is his ex-wife and author, MacKenzie Scott, who gave $5.7billion in 2020 by asking community leaders to identify 512 organizations 
  • Her donations went to food banks, human-service organizations, racial-justice charities and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs)

Jeff Bezos topped the 2020 list of ultrawealthy donors to charity by giving $10billion of his massive $192billion net worth to his own earth fund as his ex-wife donated nearly $6billion of her $58billion fortune, putting in second place. 

Bezos claimed the No. 1 spot on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual rankings of the 50 Americans who gave the most to charity last year.

His donation of $10billion launched the Bezos Earth Fund. Bezos, who last week announced he was stepping down as Amazon CEO to devote more time to philanthropy and other projects, also contributed $100million to Feeding America, the organization that supplies more than 200 food banks.

Coming in at No. 2 on the list was Bezos’s ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, who gave $5.7billion in 2020.

Scott, who has a net worth of $58.3billion, asked community leaders to help identify 512 organizations for seven- and eight-figure gifts, including food banks, human-service organizations, racial-justice charities and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

MacKenzie was awarded about 4 percent of Amazon in her divorce in 2019. She is said to have played a significant role in starting Amazon, even negotiating its first freight contracts. 

Another donor who gave big to pandemic causes and racial-justice efforts was Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter, who ranked No. 5. He put $1.1billion into a fund that by year’s end had distributed at least $330million to more than 100 nonprofits.

The financier Charles Schwab and his wife, Helen (No. 24), gave $65million to address homelessness in San Francisco. 

Jeff Bezos topped the 2020 list of ultrawealthy donors by giving $10billion of his $192billion net worth to his own earth fund

Coming in at No. 2 on the list was Bezos’s ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott (pictured), who gave $5.7billion in 2020 by asking community leaders to help identify 512 organizations for seven- and eight-figure gifts, including food banks and human-service organizations

Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings and wife, Patty Quillin (No. 14), gave $120million for financial aid for students at HBCUs. 

Basketball legend, Michael Jordan (No. 31), pledged $50million to racial and social-justice groups.

‘When I look at the events of the last year, there was an awakening for the philanthropic sector,’ says Nick Tedesco, president of the National Center for Family Philanthropy. 

‘Donors supported community-led efforts of recovery and resiliency, particularly those led by people of color.’

Giving experts say they think the trend toward broader giving is likely to persist.

‘I don’t think this approach is just a 12-month moment that started with COVID and continued following George Floyd and is going to recede,’ says Melissa Berman, president of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, which counsels donors around the world. ‘There has been change building among private donors.’

All told, the 50 biggest donors contributed $24.7billion in 2020, compared with $15.8billion in 2019. 

Still, those gifts come from a small share of the billionaire class. Only 23 of the people on the Forbes 400 gave enough to qualify for the list. 

Many of the multimillion-dollar donations came from people far less wealthy, like Gordon Rausser, a former dean of natural resources at the University of California at Berkeley.

The Chronicle’s rankings are based on the total amount philanthropists awarded in 2020. The information is based on extensive research with donors, their beneficiaries, and public records. 

Some of America’s biggest donors don’t appear on the current Philanthropy 50 even if they have made a big gift to a nonprofit last year. That’s because the Chronicle’s rankings count multiyear pledges only once, as a lump sum in the year the commitment was made.

For example, Warren Buffett is absent from this year’s list even though he gave the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation stock in his Berkshire Hathaway investment firm valued at more than $2.2billion last year.

The donation was an annual installment on his 2006 pledge of more than $36billion in Berkshire shares to the foundation. That same year he also made multibillion dollar pledges to the foundations of his late first wife and his three children.

The No. 3 donor was Michael Bloomberg, who contributed $1.6billion to arts, education, public health, and many other causes. Nike founder Phil and Penelope Knight were next, donating $1.4billion, $900.7million of it to their Knight Foundation.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his pediatrician wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $120million in 2020, putting them at the No. 16 spot

Basketball legend, Michael Jordan (No. 31), pledged $50million to racial and social-justice groups

The $1billion-plus of giving by each of the top five on the Philanthropy 50 matches last year’s record. No more than three donors gave $1billion or more in any of the previous years.

Sixteen donors in this year’s list – nearly a third of the Philanthropy 50 – made their fortunes in technology, and 20 of them live in California.

Joe Gebbia (No. 47), the 39-year-old co-founder of Airbnb, has seen his net worth shoot up to around $12billion following his company’s initial public offering in December. 

During 2020, he gave $25million to two San Francisco charities that are tackling homelessness and helping people who have suffered economically due to the pandemic.

‘I’ve been incredibly fortunate and believe that comes with the responsibility of giving back,’ Gebbia says. ‘Where will I take it? The sky is the limit.’

At a time when tech billionaires’ wealth is compounding and many working people are still suffering from the pandemic’s fallout, philanthropic expectations have never been higher. 

David Beasley, executive director of the United Nations World Food Program, highlighted the disparate effects of the pandemic in a January interview on the PBS NewsHour.

‘During the pandemic, billionaires made $5.2billion in increased wealth per day,’ he said. ‘All we are asking for is $5billion to avert famine around the world. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.’

Elon Musk, whose $180billion fortune puts him neck-and-neck with Bezos for richest person in the world, is not on the Philanthropy 50. 

Musk has faced criticism for his meager lifetime donations, estimated in a recent Vox article at just 0.05 per cent of his current net worth. 

Meanwhile, colleges and universities received $2.2billion from Philanthropy 50 donors in 2020.

But Benjamin Soskis, a research associate in the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute, says the most striking change with this year’s Philanthropy 50 list is that it presents a plurality of options for giving.

‘There’s a big difference between a hypothetical “Why didn’t you give to an HBCU instead of Harvard?” and today’s list, where you can point to donors who actually did that.’

Top 50 Charitable Donors for 2020 

Nike co-founder, Philip Knight (pictured) and his wife Penelope Knight, gave $1.4billion, putting them within the top 5 at No. 4 

1. Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder 

Amount: $10.2billion

Biggest gift: $10billion to Bezos Earth Fund

2. MacKenzie Scott, author 

Amount: $5.7billion

Biggest gift: Various

3. Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg financial news company

Amount: $1.6billion

Biggest gift: Various

4. Philip and Penelope Knight, Nike co-founder and wife

Amount: $1.4billion

Biggest gift: $900.7million to Knight Foundation

5. Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of Twitter and Square

Amount: $1.1billion

Biggest gift: Donor-advised funds

6. John and Laura Arnold, retired hedge-fund manager and wife

Amount: $567million

Biggest gift: $482million to Laura and John Arnold Foundation

7. Eric and Wendy Schmidt, former Google CEO and wife

Amount: $469.6million

Biggest gift: $335.3million to Eric and Wendy Schmidt Fund for Strategic Innovation

8. Pierre and Pam Omidyar, founder of eBay and wife 

Amount: $441million

Biggest gift: Various

9. Frederick and June Kummer, construction magnate (Frederick) and architect (June)

Mike Bloomberg is No. 3 on the list after donating $1.6billion for 2020

Amount: $300million

Biggest gift: $300million to Kummer Institute Foundation

10. Denny Sanford, banker

Amount: $224.2million

Biggest gift: Various

11. Stephen Ross, real-estate developer

Amount: $179.5million

Biggest gift: $100million to University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

12. John and Susan Sobrato, real-estate developers

Amount: $176.8million

Biggest gift: $135.2million to Sobrato Foundation at Silicon Valley Community Foundation

13. Bill and Melinda Gates, Microsoft co-founder and wife

Amount: $157million (estimated)

Biggest gift: Estimated $157million to Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

14. Reed Hastings and Patty Quillin, Netflix co-founder and wife

Amount: $151million

Biggest gifts: $40million each to Morehouse and Spelman colleges and United Negro College Fund

15. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook chief operating officer

Amount: $122.8million

Biggest gift: $63million to the Sandberg Goldberg Charitable Support Fund

16. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Facebook co-founder (Mark) and pediatrician (Priscilla)

Amount: $120million

Biggest gifts: $60million each to Chan Zuckerberg Donor Advised Fund at Silicon Valley Community Foundation and Chan Zuckerberg Foundation

17. Craig Newmark, Craigslist founder (tie)

Amount: $100million

Biggest gift: $60 million to Craig Newmark Foundation

17. David and Barbara Roux, technology investor and wife (tie)

Amount: $100million

Biggest gift: $100million to Roux Institute at Northeastern University

19. Phyllis Brissenden, family wealth

Amount: $96.9million

Biggest gift: $48.5million to the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

20. Sergey Brin and Nicole Shanahan, Google co-founder and wife

Amount: $78.3million

Biggest gift: $23.9million to Bia-Echo Foundation

Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and CEO of Twitter and Square came in at the No. 5 spot with $1.1billion in charitable giving 

21. Irwin and Joan Jacobs, Qualcomm co-founder and wife

Amount: $66.41million

Biggest gift: $17.1million to Joan and Irwin Jacobs Fund at the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego

22. George and Renee Karfunkel, businessman and wife 

Amount: $66.4million

Biggest gift: $66.4million to Congregation Chemdas Yisroel

23. Arthur Blank, Home Depot co-founder

Amount: $65.7million

Biggest gift: $65.7million to Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation

24. Charles and Helen Schwab, financial-services company founder and wife

Amount: $65million

Biggest gift: $65million to Tipping Point Community

25. Hock Tan and Lisa Yang, Broadcom CEO and wife

Amount: $64.5million

Biggest gift: $28million for K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Center for Molecular Therapeutics in Neuroscience

26. Wilbur (Billy) and Ann Powers, construction company founder and wife

Amount: $60million

Biggest gift: $60million to Clemson University

27. David and Dana Dornsife, Chairman of the Board of the Herrick Corporation (David) and founder and CEO of Lazarex Cancer Foundation (Dana)

Amount: $59million

Biggest gift: $40million to World Vision

28. Robert Smith, financier

Amount: $55million

Biggest gift: $50million to Student Freedom Initiative

29. Leon and Debra Black, financier (Leon) and Broadway theater producer (Debra)

Amount: $53.8million

Biggest gift: $53.8million to Debra and Leon Black Family Fund at National Philanthropic Trust

30. Gail Miller, businesswoman

Amount: $52.8million

Biggest gift: $50million to Intermountain Healthcare

31. Michael Jordan, retired basketball player

Amount: $52million

Biggest gift: Various

32. Richard and Mary Templeton, retired CEO of Texas Instruments (Richard) and computer scientist (Mary)

Amount: $51million

Biggest gift: $51million to Union College

33. Chris Malachowsky, technology company co-founder (tie)

Amount $50million

Biggest gift: $50million to University of Florida

33. Gordon Rausser Venture capitalist, former college dean (tie)

Amount: $50million

Biggest gift: $50million to University of California at Berkeley

33. Sheldon and Anne Vogel, former Atlantic Records executive and wife (tie)

Amount: $50million

Biggest gift: $50million to Monmouth Medical Center

36. Ronald and Eileen Weiser, real-estate developer and wife

Amount: $44.5million

Biggest gift: $24.5million to University of Michigan Elizabeth Weiser Caswell Diabetes Institute

37. Bob and JoAnn Glick, founder of Dots and wife

Amount: $42.4million

Biggest gift: $42million to MetroHealth System

38. Jim and Thomas Duff, businessmen

Amount: $41.1million

Biggest gift: $26million to University of Mississippi

39. Richard and Nancy Kinder, businessman and wife

Amount: $40.03million

Biggest gift: $40.03million to Kinder Foundation

40. Marc and Lynne Benioff, Salesforce founder and wife (tie)

Amount: $40million

Biggest gift: $10million to Jane Goodall Legacy Foundation

40. William and Joanne Conway, private-equity firm co-founder and wife (tie)

$40million

Biggest gifts: $20million each to Catholic University of America and University of Virginia

40. Haslam Family, founders of Pilot Corporation (tie)

Amount: $40million

Biggest gift: $40million to University of Tennessee at Knoxville Haslam College of Business

40. Will and Cary Singleton, managers of Singleton Ranches (tie)

Amount: $40million

Biggest gift: $40million to Saint John´s Health Center Foundation

44. Irvin Kanthak, real-estate investor

Amount: $33.7million

Biggest gift: $30million to University of St Thomas

45. Bruce and Debra Grewcock, Kiewit Corporation executive chair and wife (tie)

Amount: $30million

Biggest gift: $30million to the Colorado School of Mines

45. Daniel and Jennifer Hord, real-estate developers (tie)

Amount: $30million

Biggest gift: $30million to Baylor University

47. Joseph Gebbia Jr, Airbnb co-founder

Amount: $27million

Biggest gift: $12.5million each to All Home and Rising Up-Larkin Street Youth Services

48. Richard McVey, financier

$25.9million

Biggest gift: $20million to Miami University

49. Warner and Debbie Lusardi, construction-company executive and wife

Amount: $25.1million

Biggest gift: $25.1million to Scripps Memorial Hospital

50. Steve and Jackie Bell, real-estate investor and wife (tie)

Amount: $25million

Biggest gift: $25million to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

50. Christopher and Lisa Jeffries, real-estate developer and wife (tie)

Amount: $25million

Biggest gift: $25million to Henry Ford Health System

50. Brad and Alys Smith, technology executive (Brad) and lawyer (Alys) – (tie)

Amount: $25million

Biggest gift: $25million to Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative at West Virginia University

50. Helena Theurer, businesswoman (tie)

Amount: $25million

Biggest gift: $25million to Hackensack University Medical Center Foundation

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