America’s wealthy are worried about the country’s schools and health.
At least, that’s where they’re putting a lot of their philanthropic resources, according to Forbes magazine’s America’s Top Givers of 2018.
Investment guru Warren Buffett topped the list, followed by Microsoft MSFT, -0.09% co-founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda Gates; former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg; WMT, +0.61% Walmart founders the Waltons; and international financier George Soros.
Amazon AMZN, -0.62% founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who was recently unseated as the world’s wealthiest man by Bill Gates, was not among the top 10 donors, ranking No. 23 out of 50.
There were a few recurrent themes among the top 20 donors’ priorities: universities, K-12 education, health-related causes, research to end various diseases, and criminal justice and prison reform.
|Donor||Total Donated in 2018||Funding Priorities|
|Warren Buffett||$3.4 billion||fighting poverty, promoting women’s rights and social justice initiatives|
|Bill & Melinda Gates||$2.6 billion||global health, international development and U.S. education, polio eradication, vaccine delivery, treating and preventing HIV and malaria and agricultural development|
|Michael Bloomberg||$767 million||arts, education and public health, climate change, opioid addiction, Johns Hopkins University|
|The Waltons||$596 million||K-12 education, protecting rivers and oceans, supporting public charter schools, initiatives in the Arkansas-Mississsippi Delta|
|George Soros||$585 million||early childhood education, campaign finance and voter rights, anti-discrimination initiatives, human rights, a Bangladeshi charity supporting social development, Libraries Without Borders|
|Mark Zuckerberg & Priscilla Chan||$410 million||eradicating disease, improving education, criminal justice reform|
|Hansjoerg Wyss||$402 million||the environment, conserving land and the ocean|
|Jim and Marilyn Simons||$397 million||math and science, including the New York Genome Center and MIT|
|Pierre Omidyar||$392 million||health, human trafficking, civic engagement, media freedom, digital rights|
|Gordon and Betty Moore||$298 million||scientific research, environmental conservation, patient care and the San Francisco Bay Area|
|John and Laura Arnold||$283 million||healthcare, education, public financing, criminal justice reform and local journalism|
|Charles Koch||$245 million||education, criminal justice reform|
|Connie and Steve Ballmer||$237 million||making government data more accessible, helping young people in poverty|
|Dustin Moskovitz and Cari Tuna||$188 million||malaria, “global risks” like “threats from AI and preventing pandemics”|
|Ken Griffin||$185 million||universities, fighting poverty in New York City, the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab and department of economics, Harvard University and an art museum in West Palm Beach, Florida|
|Lynn & Stacy Schusterman||$177 million||education, Jewish community causes and Israel|
|T. Denny Sanford||$174 million||healthcare and education|
|Eli and Edythe Broad||$168 million||an institute at MIT and Harvard “which aims to use genomics to improve the treatment and understanding of diseases,” and the Broad Stem Cell Centers at UCLA, UCSF, and USC, and a free contemporary art museum in Los Angeles|
|Michael and Susan Dell||$158 million||helping childen in urban poverty attend high-quality schools, improving completion rates at colleges in the U.S. and South Africa|
The Forbes 50 donors appeared to differ from their wealthy peers in one key regard: They seem less interested in giving to religious causes. A 2018 study of high-net-worth philanthropy by U.S. Trust found that 43% of wealthy donors’ charitable dollars went to religious or spiritual causes, but those areas only popped up in a couple of places on the Forbes 50 list. But the Forbes list may not reflect all giving by America’s wealthiest, because it’s based on information provided by the donors themselves and the institutions that receive their largesse.
The Forbes tally differs slightly from other philanthropy lists because it only counted money that was actually given out, as opposed to funds that were promised. The 50 donors on the list gave out $14.1 billion in 2018, up from $12.6 billion in 2017, Forbes reported.
That upward trend hasn’t been happening across all income levels. When adjusted for inflation, charitable giving by individual Americans fell by 1.7% in 2018, according to Giving USA, an annual philanthropy report produced by the Giving Institute in collaboration with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
Fewer middle-class Americans have donated to charity in recent years, but the overall dollar amount that charities receive hasn’t declined. That’s because very wealthy donors are making up the difference and contributing more.
Critics have pointed out that very wealthy donors devote their considerable resources to their personal whims but are accountable to no one. Author Anand Giridharadas, a frequent critic of billionaire charity, has argued that “philanthropy is no substitution for taxation and a fairer set of social arrangements.”
Meanwhile, the philanthropy world has engaged in soul-searching following reports that officials at the MIT Media Lab allegedly tried to conceal disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein’s role in $7.5 million in donations to the school. MIT has said it will review its fundraising policies as a result.