Most Philanthropic Billionaires

From Bill and Melinda Gates to Mackenzie Scott, the nation's most generous donors have given away a collective $149 billion in their lifetimes

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates
Photo: Depositphotos.com/ChinaImages
Warren Buffett and Bill Gates

Amid the pandemic, many of America’s great philanthropists have opened their wallets to help halt the spread of Covid-19 and lessen its impact. No one has given more than MacKenzie Scott, who has taken the philanthropy world by storm since finalizing her divorce from Jeff Bezos in 2019. In July and December, she announced a total of $5.8 billion in grants to 500 different groups across the country.

Small charities spread across the U.S. suddenly found themselves cashing checks from one of tech’s great fortunes. “I’m still picking my jaw up from the floor," the CEO of Goodwill of North Florida, which got $10 million from Scott, told local press. The pace and scope of her charitable giving is staggering. In less than one year as a publicly active philanthropist, she has given away more than what all but five of the country’s biggest givers have in their entire lifetimes, Forbes calculates.

Other top givers to Covid causes include Bill and Melinda Gates, whose foundation has been at the center of vaccine research for years and has committed $1.75 billion over two years for pandemic relief. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has given some $330 million in Covid-19 related funding. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has given at least $100 million.

In a year also marked by turbulent politics, some—including Zuckerberg and investor George Soros—have put big money behind pro-Democracy causes. Others remain focused on long-term challenges like reducing poverty and combating climate change.

In total, these 25 billionaires have given an estimated $149 billion to charity over their lifetimes so far. And they have plenty more to go: they remain worth a collective $799 billion, by Forbes’ count.

Our estimates factor in the total lifetime giving of American billionaires, measured in dollars given out the door to charitable recipients—meaning we are not including money parked in a foundation that has yet to do any good. To that end, we also do not include gifts that have been pledged but not yet paid out, or money given to donor-advised funds—opaque tax advantaged accounts that have neither disclosure nor distribution requirements—unless the giver shared details about the grants that were actually paid. This is a list of individuals and couples who are U.S. citizens; as a result, we excluded extended families like the Waltons, controlling shareholders of Walmart, and excluded big givers like Hansjoerg Wyss, who lives in the U.S. but is a Swiss citizen. Giving amounts are through 2020 and net worths are as of January 14, 2021. 

Here’s the full list of America’s 25 most generous givers.

Warren Buffett

Giving Focus: Health, poverty alleviation

Net Worth: $88.8 billion

Lifetime Giving: $42.8 billion

The legendary investor’s quest to give away more than 99% of his fortune continues. So far, he’s donated more than $40 billion—much of it through annual gifts to The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where it’s being put to work on poverty and healthcare initiatives in the U.S. and developing countries. He’s also given billions in stock to the four charities set up by his three children and his late wife. “The reaction of my family and me to our extraordinary good fortune is not guilt, but rather gratitude,” Buffett said in 2010 when establishing The Giving Pledge—an initiative aimed at convincing the world’s billionaires to donate at least half their fortunes to charity—alongside the Gateses. “Were we to use more than 1% of my claim checks on ourselves, neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced.”

Bill & Melinda Gates

Giving Focus: Health, poverty alleviation

Net Worth: $120.7 billion

Lifetime Giving: $29.8 billion

Their two decade old Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which makes about $5 billion a year in grants, jumped into funding research, treatments, tests and vaccines for Covid-19 last year, pledging $1.75 billion to be spent over two years, with the goal of getting the tools to fight the pandemic to people in need everywhere. “Everyone, everywhere deserves to benefit from the science developed in 2020,” Melinda Gates said in a statement in December. Warren Buffett has been contributing $2 billion to $3 billion of Berkshire Hathaway stock a year to the foundation since 2006. For these calculations, Forbes divvies up the grantmaking since 2007 by the Gates Foundation between the Gates couple and Buffett.

George Soros

Giving Focus: Democracy, education, antidiscrimination, healthcare

Net Worth: $8.6 billion

Lifetime Giving: $16.8 billion

Soros’ Open Society Foundation operates in 120 countries worldwide, focusing most extensively on fostering democracy and protecting voters’ rights, areas where it spent $140 million in 2020. With annual giving of $1.2 billion last year, the foundation’s causes include economic equity, antidiscrimination, human rights, justice reform and journalism. When Covid-19 hit, it committed $37 million for undocumented immigrants excluded from U.S. federal aid to receive healthcare services. It committed $220 million to support leaders in Black communities across the United States in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Michael Bloomberg

Giving Focus: Climate change, health

Net Worth: $54.9 billion

Lifetime Giving: $11.1 billion

The former New York City mayor and Bloomberg LP cofounder has poured more than $11 billion into charitable causes, according to his Bloomberg Philanthropies, focusing on climate change, gun control and public health. He’s spent more than $1 billion to curb tobacco use over the last decade, and in 2018 announced a $1.8 billion pledge to Johns Hopkins University, his alma mater. Bloomberg Philanthropies has also donated more than $330 million to Covid-19 related programs ranging from medical research to paying for meals for frontline healthcare workers. In September, Bloomberg also announced a $100 million pledge over the next four years to fund scholarships at four historically Black medical schools. 

Charles “Chuck” Feeney

Giving Focus: Science, human rights, youth

Net Worth: N/A

Lifetime Giving: $8 billion

The former billionaire who set out to die broke has finally met his financial goal. Feeney, who cofounded the wildly successful retail chain Duty Free Shoppers in 1960, began by anonymously giving away parts of his fortune. He eventually went public with his “Giving While Living” idea, which influenced Bill Gates and Warren Buffett when they launched the Giving Pledge in 2010. Of his $8 billion in donations, some $3.7 billion went to education, including $1 billion to his alma mater, Cornell. In September 2020, Feeney and his wife Helga shuttered his foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, after it gave away the last of its assets.

MacKenzie Scott

Giving Focus: Racial, gender and economic inequality

Net Worth: $55.2 billion

Lifetime Giving: $5.83 billion

In just one year of active philanthropy, Scott has outshined her peers by miles. With help from an undisclosed number of staff and advisory firm Bridgespan Group, she handed out more in grants in six months than The Gates Foundation, which has 1,600 employees, does in a typical year. In the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests in July, she announced that she had donated nearly $1.7 billion to 116 organizations focused on inequality in society related to race, sexual orientation, gender and economic mobility. In December, Scott revealed she had given nearly $4.2 billion to 384 organizations across all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. Scott’s team paid special attention to nonprofits addressing food insecurity, racial inequity and decreasing poverty.

Gordon & Betty Moore

Giving Focus: Science, environment, education

Net Worth: $11.8 billion

Lifetime Giving: $5.15 billion

Two decades ago, the cofounder and longtime CEO of semiconductor giant Intel and his wife launched their foundation, funding it with gifts of Intel stock. The foundation awards about $270 million in grants a year. Its environmental conservation work has supported efforts to stop the loss of biodiversity. To boost science research, the foundation has funded design and construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii, a new class of telescope that will allow researchers to see deeper into space.

Eli & Edythe Broad

Giving Focus: Education, arts, science

Net Worth: $6.9 billion

Lifetime Giving: $2.8 billion

In 2020, the retired home building and insurance tycoon and his wife Edythe gave $136 million to various causes, including Covid-19 testing for college students and getting out the vote in California. The couple are longtime residents of Los Angeles and patrons of the arts. In 1984, they founded the Broad Art Foundation, an art lending library that has lent more than 8,500 works to 500 museums. The couple’s Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation supports science and education. In 2004, they backed the creation of MIT’s Broad Institute, which studies genomic research and its potential use to cure cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other medical conditions.

Jim & Marilyn Simons

Giving Focus: STEM research

Net Worth: $23.5 billion

Lifetime Giving: $2.7 billion

A former math professor before he founded quantitative trading hedge fund Renaissance Technologies in 1982, Simons has dedicated much of his philanthropic giving to STEM research and education. He established the Simons Foundation with his wife Marilyn in 1994. It’s the primary funder for Math for America, a nonprofit that focuses on building a network of skilled high school math and science teachers. The foundation also funds life science research, with gifts to institutions like the New York Genome Center, and supports autism causes with its Autism Research Institute.

Mark Zuckerberg & Priscilla Chan

Giving Focus: Science, education, criminal justice, election integrity

Net Worth: $90 billion

Lifetime Giving: $2.7 billion

The Facebook founder and CEO celebrated the fifth anniversary of his philanthropic and advocacy arm, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), in 2020. He and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have mostly focused their recent giving in two areas: Covid-19 relief and election integrity. From expanding coronavirus testing capacity in the state of California to working with the Gates Foundation to speed up development of Covid treatments, CZI gave more than $100 million to pandemic-related funding in 2020. But that figure is dwarfed by the $400 million that CZI donated to nonpartisan organizations “to ensure voters could cast their ballots safely and securely,” according to Zuckerberg and Chan’s annual letter.

Michael & Susan Dell

Giving Focus: Poverty alleviation, education

Net Worth: $40.4 billion

Lifetime Giving: $2.25 billion

Their Michael & Susan Dell Foundation increased its yearly commitments in 2020, mostly to cover pandemic-related needs. The foundation dedicated $80 million to helping support healthcare and education systems as well as nonprofits and small businesses across the country. It also donated $20 million to accelerate the development of a Covid-19 treatment. And it pledged $100 million over 10 years to close the gap in college graduation rates across income levels at the University of Texas at Austin, where Dell sold computers out of his dorm room before dropping out at age 19. 

Lynn & Stacy Schusterman

Giving Focus: Education, Jewish causes

Net Worth: $3.4 billion

Lifetime Giving: $1.84 billion 

The wife and daughter of late oil billionaire Charles Schusterman run the family’s foundation, which more than doubled its grantmaking in 2020 to nearly $400 million. To spur investment in low-income and underserved communities in the U.S., the foundation donated to LISC, a community development finance group that offers loans at affordable rates. It also supported Feeding America, which works with food banks across the country. And it donated to a partnership between tech firm Propel and nonprofit GiveDirectly, which provided $1,000 cash grants to families in need during the pandemic.

T. Denny Sanford

Giving Focus: Healthcare, education 

Net Worth: $1.6 billion

Lifetime Giving: $1.8 billion 

The South Dakota mogul has given nearly $1 billion to Sanford Health, formerly the Sioux Valley Hospitals & Health System, which operates 46 hospitals and 210 clinics. Sanford has also given $150 million to La Jolla, California-based National University, and pledged another $350 million in donations in 2019. In August 2020, ProPublica reported that Sanford had been investigated by the state's Attorney General's office for possible possession of child pornography, and that the matter was referred to the Department of Justice; it's unclear what happened with the investigation and no charges were filed. An attorney for Sanford said that authorities "did not find information or evidence that supported or resulted in any criminal charges.”

Steve & Connie Ballmer

Giving Focus: Poverty alleviation, education

Net Worth: $72.6 billion

Lifetime Giving: $1.4 billion

The former Microsoft CEO and his wife Connie gave more than $53 million to Covid-19 relief efforts in 2020, ranging from vaccine testing to food banks to students in need. The couple also gave $7 million that year to gun control advocacy group Everytown For Gun Safety. Previously, Ballmer gave $50 million to the University of Oregon (Connie’s alma mater) in 2014 and gave $60 million to the computer science department at Harvard (his alma mater). The couple has directed another $40 million toward other universities and $30 million toward children’s health and education.

Leonard Lauder

Giving Focus: Arts, science

Net Worth: $22 billion

Lifetime Giving: $1.4 billion

The elder son of makeup maven Estee Lauder, Leonard Lauder gave his massive Cubist art collection—worth more than $1 billion—to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2013. He and his billionaire brother, Ronald, have also helped raise millions for the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation, which they co-chair. The organization has awarded more than $150 million in funding for research on Alzheimer’s disease at biotech companies and academic centers in 19 countries. 

Donald Bren

Giving Focus: Education, conservation

Net Worth: $15.3 billion

Lifetime Giving: $1.3 billion

The richest real estate mogul in the U.S., Bren has given more than $240 million to schools and universities in southern California, including Caltech and the University of California’s Santa Barbara and Irvine campuses. The bulk of his giving is a 2010 gift of 20,000 acres of parkland to Orange County, part of which established the Black Star Canyon Wilderness Park. Since Bren took over the Irvine Company in the 1980s, the firm has designated more than 50,000 acres of land as open space and protected parkland.

George Kaiser

Giving Focus: Education, health, poverty alleviation

Net Worth: $5.4 billion

Lifetime Giving: $1.3 billion

The Oklahoma oil and banking baron is the largest philanthropist in his state. Focused on his home city of Tulsa, his George Kaiser Family Foundation has paid out nearly $1.3 billion in contributions and grants to childhood education and community health programs in the city, including gifts to local nonprofits and social service agencies. In 2018, Kaiser opened The Gathering Place, a 66-acre park in Tulsa that’s the largest public park in the U.S. that was built with private funds. "If you are born into poverty, the chances are good that your children will be born into poverty," he told Forbes in 2011. "Find a way to give poor kids the same cognitive stimulus that rich kids receive and they should end up with the same tools for success."

Charles Koch

Giving Focus: Education, poverty, criminal justice 

Net Worth: $44.9 billion 

Lifetime Giving: $1.3 billion

The Kansas native presides over Koch Industries, America's largest private company. Much of his giving is done through the Charles Koch Foundation, which focuses on education and criminal justice, and the Stand Together Foundation, which focuses on poverty related issues. In 2020, Stand Together launched the GiveTogetherNow initiative, which raised $120 million from the likes of Google and Stripe to provide more than 240,000 families with $500 in cash assistance.

Julia Koch & family

Giving Focus: Medical research, arts and culture

Net Worth: $44.9 billion 

Lifetime Giving: $1.3 billion

The widow of industrialist David Koch (d. 2019) has focused much of her giving on medical and art causes. Alongside David, she has given over $700 million to medical institutions, including more than $200 million to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and some $300 million to arts and culture organizations, including more than $100 million to Manhattan's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. David, former executive vice president of Koch Industries and Charles Koch's younger brother, was also a major donor to his alma maters, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Deerfield Academy.

Pierre Omidyar

Giving Focus: Poverty alleviation, human rights, education

Net Worth: $21.6 billion

Lifetime Giving: $1.3 billion

The eBay founder’s Omidyar Group donates to causes around the world, including education opportunities in Africa and India, and relief for refugees in countries like South Sudan and Syria. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Omidyar and his wife donated more than $10 million to help address the impact of the crisis, including a $1 million donation in Hawaii, where they reside. Luminate, the Group’s citizen engagement arm—which has doled out nearly $400 million since its launch—increased its support for social justice organizations, including the civil rights advocacy organization Color of Change, following the Black Lives Matter protests in June.

Julian Robertson Jr.

Giving Focus: Environment, education, medical research

Net Worth: $4.3 billion

Lifetime Giving: $1.3 billion

A pioneer of the modern hedge fund industry, Julian Robertson Jr. established the Robertson Foundation in 1996 to support the environment, education and medical research. His foundation cofounded the New York City Charter School Center and created the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program to fund undergraduate education at Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill. Robertson has established a handful of other charitable foundations, including the Tiger Foundation, the Aotearoa and the Blanche and Julian Robertson Family Foundation.

Ted Turner

Giving Focus: United Nations, environment

Net Worth: $2.2 billion

Lifetime Giving: $1.3 billion

In 1997, the man behind Turner Broadcasting and CNN made a historic $1 billion pledge that launched the United Nations Foundation. While the U.N. cannot directly raise money from philanthropists, the U.N. Foundation can—using the funds to support the intergovernmental organization’s peacekeeping, public health and environmental activities across the world. He fulfilled his big U.N. pledge in 2014. Turner, who has donated at least $300 million to other causes including land, water and species conservation through his own foundation, has said his U.N. contribution “is the best investment I’ve ever made.”

John & Laura Arnold

Giving Focus: Education, criminal justice, health

Net Worth: $3.3 billion

Lifetime Giving: $1.24 billion

Arnold, a former hedge fund manager, and his wife focus on criminal justice, healthcare and education reform. Their Arnold Ventures has pumped more than $57 million into policing initiatives, including a $2 million gift to the University of Cincinnati in 2020 to “test new approaches for policing to reduce violence and cultivate trust between communities and police.” They’ve also put nearly $100 million into programs focused on making prescription drugs cheaper and more accessible, $68 million into higher education initiatives and $22 million toward reproductive health causes.

Amos Hostetter Jr.

Giving Focus: Arts, climate, education

Net Worth: $3.6 billion

Lifetime Giving: $1.2 billion

Hostetter built a fortune as a cable TV pioneer and is working to give it away through his Boston-based Barr Foundation, which makes about $60 million in grants a year. To fight climate change, the foundation has backed efforts to reduce emissions from buildings and transportation. In 2020 it extended support to nonprofits struggling during the pandemic.

Phil Knight & family

Giving Focus: Education

Net Worth: $52.9 billion

Lifetime Giving: $1.2 billion

Knight, who cofounded the sportswear giant Nike with his former track coach at the University of Oregon, pledged nearly $800 million to the university, including a $27 million donation to renovate the campus library, a $500 million commitment to establish a new applied sciences research center and a $100 million gift to help finance construction of the school's new basketball venue, Matthew Knight Arena, named after his late son. He has also committed large sums to the Oregon Health & Science University and Stanford, where he got his MBA.

Forbes Wealth Team

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