Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos made the single-largest charitable contribution in 2020, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual list of top donations — aaimed at fighting climate change.
Bezos, the world’s richest person, used the contribution to launch his Bezos Earth Fund. The fund, which supports nonprofits involved in the climate crisis, has paid out $790 million to 16 groups so far, according to the Chronicle. According to the left-leaning Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies, from March 18 through December 7 of last year, Bezos’ wealth on paper surged by 63%, from $113 billion to $184 billion.
The sum total of the top 10 charitable donations last year — $2.6 billion — was the lowest since 2011, even as many billionaires vastly increased their wealth in the stock market rally that catapulted technology shares in particular last year.
Phil Knight, who with his wife, Penny, made the second- and third-largest donations last year according to the Chronicle, saw his wealth grow by about 77% over the same March-to-December period. Knight and his wife gave more than $900 million to the Knight Foundation and $300 million to the University of Oregon.
Fred Kummer, founder of construction company HBE Corporation, and his wife, June, gave $300 million to establish a foundation to support programs at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. It was the fourth largest charitable donation of the year.
Fifth place: The Zuckerbergs
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, delivered the fifth-largest donation on the Chronicle’s list: A $250 million gift to the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which worked on voting security issues in the 2020 election.
Zuckerberg, whose wealth nearly doubled to $105 billion in the March-to-December period according to Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies, has been widely criticized and been called to testify before Congress for his company’s handling of disinformation in the runup to the 2020 presidential election.
In the sixth spot was a $200 million donation made by Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot, through the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, to Children’s health care of Atlanta to build a new hospital in his name.
Nos. 7 – 10 on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list:
- $100 million: Jeff Bezos gift to Feeding America COVID-19 Response Fund
- $100 million: Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan gift to the Center for Tech and Civic Life to ensure safe and reliable voting practices in the 2020 election
- $100 million: Stephen Ross, founder of Related Companies, a real-estate firm gift to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor to build part of the Detroit Center for Innovation
- $100 million: David Roux, co-founder of Silver Lake Partners, a private equity firm, and his wife, Barbara, gift to Northeastern University to establish the Roux Institute
- $99.6 million: George and Renee Karfunkel, real-estate investors Congregation Chemdas Yisroel, gift to an Orthodox Jewish Synagogue
- $80 million: Bernard Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot, through his Marcus Foundation, gift to Shepherd Center to expand its neurorehabilitation hospital
- $65 million: Charles Schwab, founder of Schwab Financial Services, and his wife, Helen, gift to Tipping Point Community to build housing for people experiencing homelessness
- $63.5 million: Stephen Ross gift to World Resources Institute to support the Ross Center for Sustainable Cities
Broader scope of beneficiaries
Donors have broadened their philanthropic scope beyond the universities, medical centers and other organizations that typically comprise the year’s list of top beneficiaries, according to the Chronicle. Joining the list of top beneficiaries of 2020, were “a new environmental grant maker, a nonprofit dedicated to modernizing elections, a network of food banks, and a charity that builds housing for people experiencing homelessness.”
Two billionaires who donated heavily to charity last year — MacKenzie Scott, Bezos’ former wife, and Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter — did not make the Chronicle’s list because no single donation of theirs was large enough to qualify. Rather than give billions to just one charity, both billionaires opted to make large donations to numerous causes.
Dorsey, whose current net worth totals $11.4 billion according to Forbes, announced in an April 2020 tweet that he would be donating $1 billion in equity to his Startsmall LLC to fund global COVID-19 relief. “After we disarm this pandemic, the focus will shift to girl’s health and education, and UBI,” said Dorsey in his tweet.
Scott, whose wealth is valued at $57 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, said in a blog post in December that she had increased her for the year to $4.2 billion, in response to the “wrecking ball” effect of the coronavirus, which she also acknowledged “substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.”
Her $4.2 billion was divvied among 384 organizations she describes in her post as having “dedicated their lives to helping others, working and volunteering and serving real people face-to-face at bedsides and tables, in prisons and courtrooms and classrooms, on streets and hospital wards and hotlines and frontlines of all types and sizes, day after day after day.”
The nation’s 644 billionaires have enjoyed a staggering rise in wealth since the pandemic shuttered the economy in March, with the group gaining almost $1 trillion in total net worth, according to a recent analysis. The spike in wealth coincides with what some economists are calling a K-shaped recovery, with the rich regaining their footing while poorer Americans struggle with lost wages and jobs.
In February, the Chronicle will publish its list of the 50 biggest donors, which counts cumulative donations, not individual gifts.