Special Report

America’s Most Generous Billionaires

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The news outlet ProPublica recently revealed that U.S. billionaires pay little or no federal income tax on their immense fortunes, and the details are deeply unnerving to anyone except the most ardent defenders of the rich and famous. For the rest of us, it’s difficult to fathom how, for instance, the richest man on earth — Jeff Bezos — not only enjoys a tax rate of less than 1% but claims $4,000 in child tax credits designed to help low-income families on his returns. And remember that he’s one of the American billionaires who got richer during COVID.

While there are always going to be billionaires with phalanxes of accountants who create complex tax-avoidance strategies, some of the country’s richest men and women have been giving away at least a portion of their vast fortunes. 24/7 Wall St. has compiled a ranking of those who have donated the largest share of their net worth.

In all, their contributions total $155 billion out of a net worth of $799 billion, with the average being $5.7 billion out of nearly $30 billion. But the averages hide the outliers. Heavyweight donors on the list are globally recognized names: Buffet, Gates, Bloomberg, and Soros, three of whom are among the 30 richest Americans of all time.

Click here to learn the identities of America’s most generous billionaires.

To determine the billionaires who have given away the largest share of their net worth, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed “The 25 Most Philanthropic Billionaires” published by Forbes, as well as information from Bloomberg and other sources, and ranked givers by the percentage of their net worth donated to philanthropic causes. The ranking is based solely on committed dollars and donations that have actually been paid out, ignoring pledges, gifts given to tax-advantaged accounts, and philanthropy from extended families of heirs, such as the Waltons. Foreign nationals were excluded. Lifetime giving has been calculated through 2020, and net worth as of Jan. 14, 2021.

But this ranking also tips its top hat to billionaires who have given away a much larger share. These less-heralded donors include a retired banker who says he can’t get rid of his money fast enough, a widow who champions LGBT rights, and a 90-year-old billionaire who has given away nearly every penny of his $8 billion fortune.

27. Steve and Connie Ballmer
> Lifetime giving: $1.4 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 1.9%
> Net worth: $72.6 billion
> Giving focus: Economic mobility

Steve Ballmer and his wife, Connie (née Snyder), derive most of their fortune from a sizeable stake in Microsoft, from which the former CEO of the Redmond, Washington-based tech giant has collected about $10 billion in dividends and stock-sale proceeds as of March 2020, according to a Bloomberg estimate. Connie runs the Ballmer Group, a charitable organization aimed at eradicating intergenerational poverty in the United States.

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26. Phil Knight and family
> Lifetime giving: $1.2 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 2.2%
> Net worth: $52.9 billion
> Giving focus: Education

The 83-year-old founder of shoe giant Nike, who retired in 2016, and his wife, Penny, have been among the country’s top charitable givers in recent years, with large donations to the University of Oregon and Stanford Graduate School of Business — Phil’s alma maters — and to the private family-owned Knight Foundation the couple founded in 1997. Phil said in 2019 that he intends to give away most of his fortune within the lifespans of his grandchildren.

25. Charles Koch
> Lifetime giving: $1.3 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 2.8%
> Net worth: $44.9 billion
> Giving focus: Education, poverty, criminal justice

The 85-year-old chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, the largest privately held-company in the United States in 2020, said last year through a spokesman that his philanthropy is directed toward “individual empowerment” and “self-actualization,” reflecting his libertarian views. His primary vehicle for charitable giving is the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.

24. Julia Koch and family
> Lifetime giving: $1.3 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 2.8%
> Net worth: $44.9 billion
> Giving focus: Medical research, arts and culture

The widow of David Koch, brother of Charles Koch (No. 25 on this list), inherited billions after her husband died in 2019. As head of the David H. Koch Foundation, she oversees grants to various causes focused on science and medical research, education, and the arts, as well as causes that further libertarian and conservative policies.

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23. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan
> Lifetime giving: $2.7 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 2.9%
> Net worth: $90 billion
> Giving focus: Science, education, criminal justice, election integrity

The 37-year-old founder and CEO of Facebook and his wife, a former pediatrician, have funded various causes, primarily through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which focuses on education, immigration, housing, and biomedical research. The couple have said they intend to give away 99% of their wealth to charities over the course of their lives.

22. Michael and Susan Dell
> Lifetime giving: $2.3 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 5.3%
> Net worth: $40.4 billion
> Giving focus: Poverty alleviation, education

The Dell Technologies founder and his wife give primarily through a foundation that bears their name. Their causes include childhood health, family economic stability, and urban education. Other contributions include community initiatives in South Africa and India. Last year, the foundation donated $100 million to combat Covid-19.

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21. Pierre Omidyar
> Lifetime giving: $1.3 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 5.7%
> Net worth: $21.6 billion
> Giving focus: Poverty alleviation, human rights, education

The founder of eBay, Omidyar has been a longtime supporter of Democratic Party and liberal causes. In 2015 he committed 10% of his company’s stock, at the time worth $269 million, toward undisclosed charities. Omidyar and his wife, Pam, have also funded various projects through their Omidyar Network.

20. Leonard Lauder
> Lifetime giving: $1.4 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 6 %
> Net worth: $22 billion
> Giving focus: Arts, science

The 88-year-old chairman emeritus and former CEO of beauty giant Estée Lauder Companies — and son of the late Lauder herself — co-founded the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, a global organization that funds clinical trials seeking cures and treatments for the disease. Lauder is also a major patron of New York City’s Whitney Museum.

19. Donald Bren
> Lifetime giving: $1.3 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 7.8%
> Net worth: $15.3 billion
> Giving focus: Education, conservation

The 89-year-old California property mogul focuses his philanthropy on education and conservation, including a donation of $240 million to Southern California public schools and universities. He’s also worked to create preserved and protected open spaces in Orange County.

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18. Jim and Marilyn Simons
> Lifetime giving: $2.7 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 10.3%
> Net worth: $23.5 billion
> Giving focus: STEM research

Jim Simons, 83, made a fortune through his quantitative-trading hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, and has devoted a portion of that toward causes backed by the Simons Foundation, founded in 1994 with his wife, Marilyn. The foundation focuses on promoting Jim’s main discipline, mathematics.

17. MacKenzie Scott
> Lifetime giving: $8.5 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 16%
> Net worth: $53 billion
> Giving focus: Racial, gender and economic inequality

Ever since she split from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in 2019, receiving the most expensive divorce settlement in history, Scott has been on a giving streak. With an estimated net worth of $68 billion as of late 2020, Scott has donated billions to Covid-19 emergency relief efforts and to 286 organizations she says “have been historically underfunded and overlooked,” such as historically Black colleges and universities and tribal colleges.

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16. Michael Bloomberg
> Lifetime giving: $11.1 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 16.8%
> Net worth: $54.9 billion
> Giving focus: Climate change, health

The 79-year-old former three-term New York City mayor and presidential candidate drives his charity through Bloomberg Philanthropies, which bills itself as a “global leader on climate change, public health, education, and other critical issues facing America and the world.” He has given special attention to promoting efforts to curb gun violence.

15. George Kaiser
> Lifetime giving: $1.3 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 19.4%
> Net worth: $5.4 billion
> Giving focus: Education, health, poverty alleviation

The 78-year-old billionaire businessman has put most of his charitable work into his George Kaiser Family Foundation, which is focused on early childhood education and healthcare. He’s also a major benefactor for projects in his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, including a recent program offering people $10,000 to work remotely from the state’s second-largest city.

14. Bill and Melinda Gates
> Lifetime giving: $29.8 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 19.8%
> Net worth: $120.7 billion
> Giving focus: Health, poverty alleviation

The May 3 announcement that Bill and Melinda Gates were getting divorced after 27 years sent ripples through the charitable organizations that depend on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the world’s largest private foundations, with an estimated $50 billion in assets, of which $36 billion reportedly came from the couple. The duo has said publicly that no changes were planned for the organization. The divorce settlement will reportedly leave Melinda with more than $60 billion once the dust settles.

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13. Julian Robertson Jr.
> Lifetime giving: $1.3 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 23.2%
> Net worth: $4.3 billion
> Giving focus: Environment, education, medical research

Retired hedge funder Julian Robertson Jr., 87, puts most of his charity toward the Robertson Foundation, a supporter of environmental protection efforts, primarily the Environmental Defense Fund. He has also donated to a scholarship program for students to jointly attend the University of North Carolina and nearby Duke University, and actively supports charter schools.

12. Amos Hostetter Jr.
> Lifetime giving: $1.2 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 25%
> Net worth: $3.6 billion
> Giving focus: Arts, climate, education

Cable TV pioneer Hostetter, 84, donates mostly through the Boston-based Barr Foundation, which he founded in 1987 with his wife, Barbara, and which focuses on combating climate change as well as advocating for local transportation and education issues. Hostetter was one of the main financial backers of the Lincoln Project, the Republican-led super-PAC that worked to defeat Donald Trump in the ex-president’s re-election bid.

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11. John and Laura Arnold
> Lifetime giving: $1.2 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 27.3%
> Net worth: $3.3 billion
> Giving focus: Education, criminal justice, health

A hedge funder and former trader at Enron, the energy trading firm that collapsed in an accounting scandal in 2001, John Arnold and his wife, Laura, have focused their charitable work on initiatives to lower drug prices, end mass incarceration, and make tax policy more equitable. They have pledged to give away 5% of their net worth annually.

10. Eli and Edythe Broad
> Lifetime giving: $2.8 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 28.9%
> Net worth: $6.9 billion
> Giving focus: Education, arts, science

Billionaire businessman and Los Angeles civic leader Eli Broad died this year at 87, leaving behind his wife, Edythe, and two sons, Jeffrey and Gary. Edythe is credited with instilling a passion for arts philanthropy in her husband, and their foundation also supports education and medical research. The couple played an outsize role in funding L.A. cultural institutions, including The Broad, a contemporary art museum that opened in 2015.

9. Gordon and Betty Moore
> Lifetime giving: $5.2 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 30.4%
> Net worth: $11.8 billion
> Giving focus: Science, environment, education

The Moores derive their wealth from 92-year-old Gordon’s role as co-founder and chairman emeritus of semiconductor chip giant the Intel Corporation. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation awards grants focused on scientific research and innovation, environmental conservation, and healthcare.

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8. Warren Buffett
> Lifetime giving: $42.8 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 32.5%
> Net worth: $88.8 billion
> Giving focus: Health, poverty alleviation

The 90-year-old “Oracle of Omaha” has said he intends to give away “more than 99%” of his wealth in his lifetime or at death, and has joined Bill and Melinda Gates in asking wealthy Americans to give away at least half of their wealth to charity. Last summer, Buffet donated $2.9 billion in Berkshire Hathaway Inc. stock to four family charities and to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Buffett has been giving away Berkshire shares since 2006.

7. Lynn and Stacy Schusterman
> Lifetime giving: $1.8 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 35.1%
> Net worth: $3.4 billion
> Giving focus: LGBT rights, education, Jewish causes

The 82-year-old Lynn is the widow of oil magnate Charles Schusterman. Through the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Lynn and daughter Stacy focus their philanthropy toward left-of-center causes including LGBT rights and education policy, as well as support for Israel and Israeli liberal social advocacy.

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6. Ted Turner
> Lifetime giving: $1.3 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 37.1%
> Net worth: $2.2 billion
> Giving focus: United Nations, environment

Ted Turner may have reduced his public presence since his dementia diagnosis in 2018, but the 82-year-old cable news and television pioneer continues to be a major philanthropic force through different foundations and initiatives devoted to various global causes, including the eradication of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

5. Karen Huntsman
> Lifetime giving: $1.6 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 40%
> Net worth: $1 billion
> Giving focus: Healthcare, education

Karen Huntsman is the widow of Jon Huntsman Sr., co-founder of chemical products manufacturer Huntsman Corporation. Surviving family members are reportedly taking a more active role in the Jon and Karen Huntsman Foundation, focused on higher education, cancer care, and economic development.

4. T. Denny Sanford
> Lifetime giving: $1.8 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 52.9%
> Net worth: $1.6 billion
> Giving focus: Healthcare, education

The 85-year-old retired billionaire banker has said that he wants to die broke. But despite a recent $1 billion to nonprofit hospital group Sanford Health, Sanford says he can’t give away his money fast enough.

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3. W. Barron Hilton
> Lifetime giving: $1.3 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 54.2%
> Net worth: $1 billion
> Giving focus: Poverty alleviation, education

The 93-year-old hotel magnate announced in 2019 he was donating 97% of his wealth to his family foundation, which focuses on issues including disaster relief, treating HIV-positive children, and poverty alleviation.

2. George Soros
> Lifetime giving: $16.8 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 66.1%
> Net worth: $8.6 billion
> Giving focus: Democracy, education, antidiscrimination, healthcare

The 90-year-old billionaire investor may be third behind Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates in terms of total lifetime giving, but he tops them in terms of giving as a percent of earnings, making him arguably the most charitable billionaire on this list if factoring both share of earnings and total value. His global philanthropy is channeled through his Open Society Foundations.

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1. Charles “Chuck” Feeney
> Lifetime giving: $8 billion
> Lifetime giving as pct. of net worth: 100%
> Net worth: Under $2 million
> Giving focus: Science, human rights, youth

Feeney, the man who made duty-free airport shopping a thing, is the one billionaire on this list that has a proven commitment to giving away all of his wealth within his lifetime. He’s taken Gilded Age industrialist Andrew Carnegie’s maxim to heart, that to die wealthy is to die disgraced.

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