The Generous Billionaires Club

The Generous Billionaires Club

Billionaire Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway fame is said to have once suggested to Bill Gates that he give some or all of his money away, after which Gates set up the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Gates, of course, has been the richest man in the world 15 of 20 years in Forbes Magazine's "World's Billionaires List, including 2014's 28th annual list (released Mar 2014). Buffett once had that honor, in 2008, displacing Bill Gates, who had had that title for 13 years. However, with Buffett's goal of giving away most of his money, he's dropped — currently at #4, and 2nd richest person in America.

Buffett is so successful that his "lunch with Warren Buffett" charity auction events can go to the highest bidder at amounts as much as $3.5M. Though contrary to the image we may have of billionaires, Buffett is on a mission to give away his money, and he's recruiting other billionaires to a campaign known as The Giving Pledge. We look at the American billionaires who've signed up, as well as other millionaires and billionaires who have been making relatively large contributions in the past few years.

Giving: By the Numbers

Forbes Billionaire's List

For perspective, here are some quick stats compiled from Forbes Magazine's 28th annual World Billionaires List.

  • 1,645 billionaires made it to Forbes' 2014 list.
  • The total net worth represented at the time totaled about $6.446 trillion, which is an increase of $1 trillion from 2013.
  • Bill Gates was #1 (15th time in the past 20 years), and his wealth rose $9B from the 2013 list, to total $76B.
  • Warren Buffett was #4 (2nd richest in America), with a
  • 492 (29.91%) Americans (citizens, landed immigrants) were represented on the 2014 list, with a total net worth of about $2.318 trillion.
  • Americans made up 16 of the top 25 billionaires, representing 622.2B in net wealth.
  • Americans made up 8 of the top 10 spots on the Forbes list, losing out only for 2nd and 3rd places.
  • 50 of the 268 new billionaires on the list were American.
  • 10 of the 26 new tech billionaires were American.

The Giving Pledge

In an article in Fortune in Jun 2010, Warren Buffett spelled out his Giving Pledge. His goal: give away 99% of his wealth during his lifetime or upon his death. As part of this goal, he is giving away approximately 4% of his Berkshire Hathaway shares every year (since 2010). At the time of his article, 20% of his shares (including that of late wife Susan Buffett) had already been distributed to charities.

Buffett's father influenced him significantly. He says that his father taught him how to live, about the power of unconditional love, and believes the world would be a better place if we all practiced this. He has hopes that the wealthy giving away at least half their wealth will become the norm and not the exception. His suggestion: take care of your families, and with leftover money, enrich society with contributions.

A sampling of Americans billionaires — other than Bill Gates and Warren Buffett — who have taken the Giving Pledge since 2010 include the following, amongst others. For a full list, see Names are listed alphabetically by last name. Information in brackets is rank/ details from Forbes' 2014 world billionaires list.

  • Eli Broad (#196, $6.9B, investments)
  • Steve Case (#1372, $1.2B, AOL)
  • John Doerr (#466, $3.4B, venture capital)
  • Barry Diller (#731, $2.4B, online media)
  • Larry Ellison (#5, $48B, Oracle)
  • George Lucas (#295, $4.9B, producer, director, Star Wars, etc)
  • Michael Milken (#687, $2.5B, investments)
  • John Morgridge (#1565, $1B, former Chair, Cisco Systems)
  • Ronald Perelman (#73, $14B, leverage buyouts)
  • David Rockefeller (#580, $2.9B, oil, banking)
  • Ted Turner ($796, $2.2B, cable television)
  • Mark Zuckerberg (#21, $28.5B, Facebook) — Only 26 at the time; donated $100M towards public schools.

T. Boone Pickens has taken the Giving Pledge, as has Chuck Feeney; however, they given enough of their fortunes away that they are currently not billionaires.

As of late March 2014, the Giving Pledge had signed up 122 wealthy American individuals or couples.

Who's Not Getting An Inheritance

Part of the philosophy of the giving pledge is to take care of family, but not overly so. A number of wealthy Americans have decided not to leave large fortunes to their children, but rather give most of their wealth away.

Here are 10 American billionaires/ former billionaires not passing their bucks, so to speak, to their kids. People are listed in order of their Forbes ranking (details in brackets, after each name). Everyone listed below has signed the Giving Pledge. Chuck Feeney and T. Boone Pickens are listed last only because they've given away enough of their fortunes that they are not on Forbes' 2014 billionaire's list.

  1. Bill Gates (#1, $76B, Microsoft) — The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation started by Gates and his wife in 1994 essentially started The Giving Pledge.
  2. Warren Buffett (#4, $58.2B, Berkshire Hathaway) — Has pledged, in 2010, to give away 99% of his wealth. 83% was already pledged to the Gates Foundation in 2006.
  3. Michael Bloomberg (#16, $33B, Bloomberg LP) — As New York City mayor, he earned a $1. As a philanthropist, he gives to Johns Hopkins University, the Carnegie Corporation and many other non-profits. He signed The Giving Pledge (date unknown).
  4. Pierre Omidyar (#162, $8.2B, Ebay) — Became a billionaire at 31 and has been donating to charity since, via mostly his Omidyar Network philanthropic investment firm. He signed Buffett's Giving Pledge in 2010. Omidyar and wife Pam give large donations towards fighting human trafficking.
  5. George Lucas (#295, $4.9B, director, producer) – He plans to give away most of his wealth toward education. Part of his charitable efforts include giving away the $4B he received from Disney to buy Lucas Films. Signed The Giving Pledge in 2010.
  6. Bernard Marcus (#446, $3.5B, Home Depot) — Gives to the Georgia Aquarium and started the Marcus Foundation (donates towards education and handicapped causes). Signed The Giving Pledge in 2010.
  7. John Arnold (#580, $2.9B, hedge funds) — He retired at about the age of 40 in Oct 2012, with a fortune of $4B. Arnold and wife Laura have three children but are spending their lives giving away their wealth via their Arnold Foundation. They signed The Giving Pledge (date unknown).
  8. Ted Turner (#796, $2.2B, cable television) — Has five children from three marriages, none of whom will receive a large sum. He's given billions to the United Nations Foundation and in 2010 said that he was down to about $1M, from giving away money. Signed The Giving Pledge.
  9. Chuck Feeney (co-founder of Duty-Free Shoppers Group airport shops) — Transferred his billions to his Atlantic Philanthropies foundation in the late 1980s. Signed The Giving Pledge (date unknown).
  10. T. Boone Pickens (corporate raider, oil & gas, investments) — At some point in 2013, Pickens had a net worth of $1.4B, though in his Giving Pledge letter, he says that he's given away $800M.

Who's Been Generous

The Chronicle of Philanthropy's "Philanthropy 50" list for 2014 is the 14th annual list of the 50 most generous donors of 2013 in America. The list is compiled on the basis of disclosure by contributors and only refers to new contributions or pledges made in the previous calendar year. So there are people who donated large amounts in 2013 but are not on the list because the contributions represent pledges made in previous years. Also, contributions to family foundations are not included.

Here are the top ten most generous Americans for 2013, representing new contributions or pledges. The info brackets represents ranking and details from Forbes' 2014 World's Billionaires List. The term "nofl" means the person is not on the Forbes' list, either because they are not currently billionaires, or because they've passed away.

  1. Mark Zuckerberg (#21, $28.5B, Facebook) and Priscilla Chan – $992.2M.
  2. George Mitchell (nofl) – $750M (bequest; passed away in Jul 2013)
  3. Philip (#42, $18.4B, Nike) and Penelope Knight – $500M
  4. Michael Bloomberg (#16, $33B, Bloomberg LP) – $452M
  5. John (#580, $2.9B, hedge funds) and Laura Arnold – $296.2M
  6. Charles Johnson (#177, $7.5B, money management) – $250M
  7. Pierre (#162, $8.2B, Ebay) and Pam Omidyar – $225M
  8. Irwin (#988, $1.8B, Qualcomm) and Joan Jacobs – $221.1M
  9. Sergey Brin (#19, $31.8B, Google) and Anne Wojcicki – $219M
  10. Jeffrey Carlton (nofl) – $212M (bequest; passed away in 2012)

George Soros, who had previously pledged $332M for various causes, came in at #47 for new donations of $40M for 2013.

The 54 donors on the Top 50 list represented 17 U.S. states or districts, with 15 donors living in California and 12 in New York state. Other states/ districts covered, in decreasing total amount of donations, are: Texas, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, South Dakota, District of Columbia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Alabama, Nevada, Wisconsin, Georgia, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

  • Wisconsin and Hawaii each had 1 donor, although neither state had organizations receiving the money given / donated.
  • 6 states with organizations receiving donations but not having donors are: Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Virginia,
  • 2 receiving organizations were outside the U.S.
  • Total donations for 2013 were just under $3.5B.
  • California donors gave/ pledged just over $2.7B ($2.781B), distributed to 27 recipients.
  • New York donors gave/ pledged just under $1.6B ($1.589B), distributed to 22 recipients.

Mark Zuckberg and Priscilla Chan's new pledges/ donations for 2013 totalled nearly $1B — the top amount for any individual or couple. Zuckerberg is also the youngest ever billionaire on the The Chronicle of Philosophy's top 50 donors list — not quite 30 as of writing. Zuckerberg and Chan have donated 36M Facebook shares to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation over two years (2012, 2013).

Zuckerberg is the exception in terms of young billionaire philanthropists. The median age of the 54 donors in the top 50 was 72.5.

Who's Been Super-Generous

The super-generous are those American billionaires who have given away at least $1B of their net worth over time. Forbes magazine had a a list circa Sep 2012 of 23 billionaires worldwide who had given away $1B or more. Here are the top 10 people on that list.

Notes: Names are listed in decreasing order of contribution. Many of these people have given or pledged additional money since. Information in brackets is ranking / details from Forbes' 2014 world billionaires list, if available (else "nofl").

  1. Bill Gates (#1, $76B, Microsoft) – $16B contributed.
  2. Warren Buffett (#4, $58.2B, Berkshire Hathaway) – $17.25B
  3. George Soros (#26, $23B, hedge funds) – $8.5B
  4. Gordon Moore (#281, $5B, Intel) – $5B
  5. Eli Broad (#196, $6.9B, investments) – $3.5B
  6. George Kaiser (#122, $10B, oil & gas, banking)- $3.3B
  7. Michael Bloomberg (#16, $33B, Bloomberg LP)- $2.8B
  8. James Stowers (nofl) – $2B
  9. Herbert Sandler (nofl) – $1.5B
  10. Ted Turner (#796, $2.2B, cable television) – $1.5B

Of this list, only Soros has not take the Giving Pledge. Stowers and Sandler have given away much of their fortunes are and are no longer billionaires.

Information for this article was collected from the following pages and web sites: