Bezos, Bloomberg among top 50 U.S. charity donors for 2020

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As the world grappled with COVID-19, a recession and a racial reckoning, the ultrawealthy gave to a broader set of causes than ever before—bestowing multimillion-dollar gifts on food pantries, historically Black colleges and universities and organizations that serve the poor and the homeless, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual rankings of the 50 Americans who gave the most to charity last year.

Another cause that got outsize attention from billionaire philanthropists: Climate change. Jeff Bezos topped the list (see below) by donating $10 billion to launch 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 $100 million to Feeding America, the organization that supplies more than 200 food banks.

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

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 $1.1 billion into a fund that by year’s end had distributed at least $330 million to more than 100 nonprofits.

The financier Charles Schwab and his wife, Helen (No. 24), gave $65 million to address homelessness in San Francisco. Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings and wife, Patty Quillin (No. 14), gave $120 million for financial aid for students at historically Black colleges and universities. Michael Jordan, the basketball great (No. 31), pledged $50 million 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 $24.7 billion in 2020, compared with $15.8 billion 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.

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

The $1 billion-plus of giving by each of the top five on the Philanthropy 50 matches last year’s record. No more than three donors gave $1 billion 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 $12 billion following his company’s initial public offering in December. During 2020, he gave $25 million 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 $5.2 billion in increased wealth per day,” he said. “All we are asking for is $5 billion to avert famine around the world. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

Elon Musk, whose $180 billion 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 percent of his current net worth.

If small and midsize charities were the notable winners in 2020, does that make large universities the losers? Hardly. Colleges and universities received $2.2 billion 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 donors

These are the donors who gave the most in 2020, according to the Philanthropy 50, an annual ranking compiled by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. A searchable database with more information on the donors and their beneficiaries is available at philanthropy.com.

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1. Jeff Bezos

Amazon founder

$10.2 billion

Biggest gift: $10 billion to Bezos Earth Fund

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2. MacKenzie Scott

Author and ex-wife of Jeff Bezos

$5.7 billion

Biggest gift: Various

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3. Michael Bloomberg

Founder of Bloomberg financial news company

$1.6 billion

Biggest gift: Various

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4. Philip and Penelope Knight

Nike co-founder and wife

$1.4 billion

Biggest gift: $900.7 million to Knight Foundation

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5. Jack Dorsey

Co-founder and CEO of Twitter and Square

$1.1 billion

Biggest gift: Donor-advised funds

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6. John and Laura Arnold

Retired hedge-fund manager and wife

$567 million

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

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7. Eric and Wendy Schmidt

Former Google CEO and wife

$469.6 million

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

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8. Pierre and Pam Omidyar

Founder of eBay and wife

$441 million

Biggest gift: Various

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9. Frederick and June Kummer

Construction magnate (Frederick) and architect (June)

$300 million

Biggest gift: $300 million to Kummer Institute Foundation

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10. Denny Sanford

Banker

$224.2 million

Biggest gift: Various

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11. Stephen Ross

Real-estate developer

$179.5 million

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

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12. John and Susan Sobrato

Real-estate developers

$176.8 million

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

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13. Bill and Melinda Gates

Microsoft co-founder and wife

$157 million (estimated)

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

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14. Reed Hastings and Patty Quillin

Netflix co-founder and wife

$151 million

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

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15. Sheryl Sandberg

Facebook chief operating officer

$122.8 million

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

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16. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan

Facebook co-founder (Mark) and pediatrician (Priscilla)

$120 million

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

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17. (tie) Craig Newmark

Craigslist founder

$100 million

Biggest gift: $60 million to Craig Newmark Foundation

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17. (tie) David and Barbara Roux

Technology investor and wife

$100 million

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

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19. Phyllis Brissenden

Family wealth

$96.9 million

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

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20. Sergey Brin and Nicole Shanahan

Google co-founder and wife

$78.3 million

Biggest gift: $23.9 million to Bia-Echo Foundation

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21. Irwin and Joan Jacobs

Qualcomm co-founder and wife

$66.41 million

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

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22. George and Renee Karfunkel

Businessman and wife

$66.4 million

Biggest gift: $66.4 million to Congregation Chemdas Yisroel

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23. Arthur Blank

Home Depot co-founder

$65.7 million

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

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24. Charles and Helen Schwab

Financial-services company founder and wife

$65 million

Biggest gift: $65 million to Tipping Point Community

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25. Hock Tan and Lisa Yang

Broadcom CEO and wife

$64.5 million

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

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26. Wilbur (Billy) and Ann Powers

Construction company founder and wife

$60 million

Biggest gift: $60 million to Clemson University

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27. David and Dana Dornsife

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

$59 million

Biggest gift: $40 million to World Vision

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28. Robert Smith

Financier

$55 million

Biggest gift: $50 million to Student Freedom Initiative

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29. Leon and Debra Black

Financier (Leon) and Broadway theater producer (Debra)

$53.8 million

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

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30. Gail Miller

Businesswoman

$52.8 million

Biggest gift: $50 million to Intermountain Healthcare

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31. Michael Jordan

Retired basketball player

$52 million

Biggest gift: Various

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32. Richard and Mary Templeton

Retired CEO of Texas Instruments (Richard) and computer scientist (Mary)

$51 million

Biggest gift: $51 million to Union College

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33. (tie) Chris Malachowsky

Technology company co-founder

$50 million

Biggest gift: $50 million to University of Florida

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33. (tie) Gordon Rausser

Venture capitalist, former college dean

$50 million

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

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33. (tie) Sheldon and Anne Vogel

Former Atlantic Records executive and wife

$50 million

Biggest gift: $50 million to Monmouth Medical Center

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36. Ronald and Eileen Weiser

Real-estate developer and wife

$44.5 million

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

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37. Bob and JoAnn Glick

Founder of Dots and wife

$42.4 million

Biggest gift: $42 million to MetroHealth System

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38. Jim and Thomas Duff

Businessmen

$41.1 million

Biggest gift: $26 million to University of Mississippi

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39. Richard and Nancy Kinder

Businessman and wife

$40.03 million

Biggest gift: $40.03 million to Kinder Foundation

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40. (tie) Marc and Lynne Benioff

Salesforce founder and wife

$40 million

Biggest gift: $10 million to Jane Goodall Legacy Foundation

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40. (tie) William and Joanne Conway

Private-equity firm co-founder and wife

$40 million

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

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40. (tie) Haslam Family

Founders of Pilot Corporation

$40 million

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

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40. (tie) Will and Cary Singleton

Managers of Singleton Ranches

$40 million

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

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44. Irvin Kanthak

Real-estate investor

$33.7 million

Biggest gift: $30 million to University of St. Thomas

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45. (tie) Bruce and Debra Grewcock

Kiewit Corporation executive chair and wife

$30 million

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

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45. (tie) Daniel and Jennifer Hord

Real-estate developers

$30 million

Biggest gift: $30 million to Baylor University

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47. Joseph Gebbia Jr.

Airbnb co-founder

$27 million

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

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48. Richard McVey

Financier

$25.9 million

Biggest gift: $20 million to Miami University

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49. Warner and Debbie Lusardi

Construction-company executive and wife

$25.1 million

Biggest gift: $25.1 million to Scripps Memorial Hospital

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50. (tie) Steve and Jackie Bell

Real-estate investor and wife

$25 million

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

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50. (tie) Christopher and Lisa Jeffries

Real-estate developer and wife

$25 million

Biggest gift: $25 million to Henry Ford Health System

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50. (tie) Brad and Alys Smith

Technology executive (Brad) and lawyer (Alys)

$25 million

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

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50. (tie) Helena Theurer

Businesswoman

$25 million

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

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This article was provided to The Associated Press by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. The AP and the Chronicle receive support from the Lilly Endowment for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits. The AP and the Chronicle are solely responsible for all content.

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