Giving it All Away

The data is in and 2021 was yet another stellar year for philanthropy from the wealthiest in the United States. America’s richest gave away more than $33.4 billion last year.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual Philanthropy 50 ranks those whose giving in 2021 was made publicly available either by the individuals themselves or other data, such as a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, which landed Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, on the list for the very first time.

Musk’s arrival on the list was a thundering one – coming in at the number-two spot for giving away more than $5.7 billion USD in 2021. Musk is one of 15 on the Chronicle’s 2021 list who has signed The Giving Pledge, described as “A promise by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to charitable causes.” The extend of Musk’s charitable giving has been mostly unknown prior to 2021 and the recipients of his largess last year were not named, though some have issued announcements of their own. Forbes, whose 2021 list of America’s wealthiest Americans also has Musk at the number-two spot, reported his net worth at $190.5 billion in 2021.

Many familiar names round out the top five on the list. At the top, Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates reported gifts of $15 billion, Michael Bloomberg, at the third spot, gave away $1.66 billion, and Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan came in at number five having donated $1.049 billion. Perhaps less of a household name, and making the list for the only the second time, hedge-fund guru William Ackman and wife Neri Oxman came in at the fourth-place ranking with $1.2 billion in gifts.

Two other well-known names made the top 10. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey made that list for a second year in a row, coming in at the seventh-place ranking with gifts totaling nearly $765 million. Jeff Bezos went from the top spot in 2020 to the tenth in 2021 with donations of nearly $511 million. In 2020, Bezos gave a whopping $10 billion donation to establish the Bezos Earth Fund. Forbes reported that Bezos’ 2021 net worth topped $200 billion, making him the richest person in the United States.

I was scratching my head when reviewing 2021’s list as the most-talked-about philanthropist as of late is MacKenzie Scott; her name does not appear on Philanthropy 50. It turns out that Scott and her representatives decided not to share their giving information, which is not a surprise given how low-key Scott is with her giving and the news of donations usually only coming from the non-profit beneficiaries themselves.

Warren Buffet was also absent from the list in 2021. Yet, the Chronicle of Philanthropy estimates that Buffet likely have away more than $4 billion in stock, including $3.2 billion to the Gates Foundation where Buffet has found great affinity in realizing his philanthropic goals.