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Gates and French Gates top list of America’s 50 largest charitable donors in 2021

A handful of Americans donated at least $1 billion to charity last year, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual ranking of the 50 Americans who gave the most to charity in 2021.

Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates top the list, pledging $15 billion to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a major player in global health and American education. They announced the multi-year engagement two months after shocking the philanthropic world when they learned they were planning a divorce.

Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor and financial titan, has donated $1.7 billion to arts, education, the environment and other causes.

Hedge fund manager Bill Ackman and his wife, Neri Oxman, ranked third, primarily for their donations to Ackman’s Pershing Square Foundation and their donor-advised funds.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, round out the billionaire donors in 2021, with contributions totaling $1.05 billion to bolster their Chan Zuckerberg Foundation and donor-advised fund.

In total, Philanthropy 50 donors gave nearly $28 billion to charity, with the median level of donations just over $100 million.

But some philanthropy experts say the large donations that have earned many billionaires a spot on this year’s list aren’t nearly as impressive when you consider that many of those donors have seen their wealth grow by tens of billions in the past. recent years.

A 2018 report by Bridgespan found that ultra-wealthy American families, those with $500 million or more, donated just 1.2% of their assets to charity in 2017. years.

“The wealthiest Americans have seen their net worth increase by 60 to 70 percent,” says Alison Powell, partner and philanthropy adviser at Bridgespan Group. “It’s really surprising that donations haven’t increased more. Our goal is to draw wealth from the margins and work in the charitable sector.

Renowned novelist and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott and tech mogul Elon Musk are among the notable absentees from the Philanthropy 50 list. a spot in the Philanthropy 50, but they and their representatives declined to provide information to the Chronicle.

Scott gave at least $2.8 billion to charities last year, likely through three donor-driven funds housed at the Chicago Community Trust, Fidelity Charitable and the National Philanthropic Trust, which the magazine said online Puck, belong to him.

Nearly 86% of funds donated by Philanthropy 50 donors — some $23.8 billion — went to a relatively narrow slice of the charitable sector: colleges and universities, hospitals, foundations and donor-advised funds.

It was a disappointment for charity advocates who had hoped that broader donations in 2020 – which included large donations to food banks, racial justice groups, historically black colleges and universities and social service organizations – marked a turning point in the donations of the ultra-rich. .

“From this list, you wouldn’t know we’re living through a global pandemic, and you wouldn’t know that as a society we’re struggling with racial inequality,” says Chuck Collins, program director on the inequality and the common. Good at the Institute for Policy Studies. “This gift list is completely out of touch with the reality of our society right now.”

There are a few exceptions. Jack Dorsey (#6), the co-founder of Twitter, continued to give big to advance social justice and provide COVID-19 relief through his donor-advised fund. Scott has also made significant donations for racial justice.

The Chronicle’s ranking is based on the total amount philanthropists have given or pledged in 2021. The information is based on extensive research with donors, their recipients, and public records.

Half of Philanthropy 50 donors have made their fortunes in finance (14) or technology (11), so it’s no surprise that Washington State and California, home to the tech hubs of Seattle and Silicon Valley received the largest share of donations, followed by New York State, with its financial capital, New York.

It’s not just ultra-wealth critics who realize that billionaire philanthropy is increasingly concentrated in certain sectors and locations.

Some of the donors on the list are seeing the same phenomenon – and directing their donations to areas where they see greater need.

Mark Jones (tied 25th on the list), who earned an MBA from Harvard Business School before founding an insurance company with his wife, Robyn, says they believe they will have a bigger impact with their $101 million gift to Montana State University to expand rural nursing education than they would have by adding to Harvard Business School’s endowment.

“We’re not interested in donating for attention or prestige,” says Mark Jones. “What matters is how we can use our resources to help improve the lives of as many people as possible in the communities where we live.”

Austin Russell (#36), the founder of Luminar Technologies, which is developing technology used in self-driving vehicles, is, at 26, the youngest donor on the list and one of five donors on the list under the age of 40 years. Russell said in an interview that he chose to make his first mega-donation to the Central Florida Foundation because two other regions where he has personal or professional ties — Los Angeles and the Bay Area — have far greater philanthropic resources. important than Orlando.

More details on the Philanthropy 50 are available at