Once again, the Chronicle of Philanthropy has released its list of the top 50 most charitable donors and in 2022, the United States’ wealthiest people gave away some $16 billion USD.
To make the 2022 list, $40 million USD in charitable giving seems to have been the cut off. That’s where Murray Gerber, a retired oil executive from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, found his way onto the list for the first time with a $40 million gift for scholarships to his alma mater, Augustana College. Gerber’s gift, complemented by those from additional donors inspired by his giving to the school, has allowed the Illinois-based college to offer full financial support for demonstrated need among those attending the traditional liberal arts school.
Tied at the same spot with Gerber are David Frederick and Sophia Lynn, who also appear in the top 50 for the first time. The DC-based lawyer and his wife gave large gifts to his alma maters -- $35 million USD to the University of Oxford and another $5 million to the University of Pittsburgh. The Gift to Oxford will, in part, support intergenerational programming between students and residents of a senior living complex.
At the top of the list for 2022, Microsoft founder Bill Gates found himself leading the pack. Again. Although significantly less than the $15 million USD gift to his eponymous foundation in 2021, he gave another $5.1 million USD to the foundation last year. Gates and former wife Melinda French Gates continue to run the foundation together despite their marital split. The duo also helped to create The Giving Pledge, a commitment from the wealthiest of Americans to give away their wealth in pursuit of solving the world’s most pressing problems. The Chronicle reports that since 1994, the Gates’ have awarded an astonishing $65.6 billion, with a B. Forbes estimates Bill Gates’ current net worth at $104 billion USD.
The headline-grabbing head of Tesla and Twitter, and the world’s second wealthiest person, Elon Musk, found himself at the number two spot for the second year in a row, having contributed nearly $2 billion USD. Also a signatory to The Giving Pledge, Musk is notoriously quiet about his charitable activity and exact amounts are not known.
Two additional household names made the top 5: Michael Bloomberg and Warren Buffet, though nearly a mere billion separates them apart. Former New York City Mayor and financial guru Bloomberg gave $1.7 billion in 2022 and came in at the number 3 spot, his same ranking as the previous two years. The Chronicle reported that among Bloomberg’s largest gifts were a nearly-quarter billion-dollar pledge to assist developing countries transition to clean energy and another of $204 million gift to support ocean conservation. Buffet’s giving, meanwhile, was nearly $759 million and largely split between the charitable foundations run by his three children.
At the number five spot is another familiar name, Bezos. But it’s not the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, it’s his parents, Miguel and Jacklyn Bezos, who gave away $710.5 million largely to support cancer research. Their son, the third wealthiest person in the world with a current worth of $114 billion, was number 18 on the list with giving of $122.15 million, $100 million of which will be given out at the direction of singer and humanitarian extraordinaire Dolly Parton who won Bezos’ Courage and Civility award. And while continuing to eschew pressure to sign The Giving Pledge, Bezos has nonetheless pledged to give away his wealth during his lifetime.
Rounding out the top ten are Houstonians Laura and John Arnold whose giving, including through and to their own foundation, reached $617 million in 2022. The Arnolds consistently make the list each year.
The late Kohler Company heiress, Ruth DeYoung Kohler II, who died in 2020, bequeathed nearly a half-billion dollars to the Ruth Foundation for the Arts and at the number seven spot on the list. According to the Chronicle, the foundation plans to award roughly $20 million USD per year going forward.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin put his tech wealth to great use in 2022 with nearly $412 million in charitable giving, including over a quarter-billion to his own family foundation, nearly $80 million to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, and $57.6 million into a donor-advised fund. Though about half of what his charitable giving was in 2021, according to the report, his largess earned him the number 8 spot on the list.
At number nine and number ten, respectively, are financier Denny Sanford with a reported giving of $333 million USD and Alice Clark, wife of the late metro-DC area construction magnate James Clark, whose giving reached nearly $322 million. Close to my own heart, given the foundation I currently run prioritizes grant making for veterans and military families, Clark awarded $21 million to various veteran-serving organizations including Team Rubicon, Workshops for Warriors, and Operation Homefront.
Between those at the bottom of the list and those in the top ten, are both some familiar and not-so-familiar names. Regardless, the spirit of philanthropy is alive in well across America. In fact, according to the Chronicle, overall giving for 2022 was up nearly 5% from the year prior. However, the actual number of people that contributed in 2022 actually declined by 7.1% compared to 2021.
As always, kudos to the Chronicle’s Maria Di Mento for crunching the data and authoring the analysis. The full report can be found at philanthropy.com/2023phil50