It's easy to rail about income inequality and the “one percent”, and certainly, income inequality has risen in the U.S. and in many other areas of the world. However, there are also a number of billionaires who have shared their wealth through large charitable donations, or pledged to give away over half of their wealth through the Giving Pledge, a program started by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates.
The most recent large charitable donation was made by Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who pledged to give his approximately $32 billion fortune to charity, citing Bill and Melinda Gates as his inspiration. The donation will be made over a several-year period through his charitable organization, Alwaleed Philanthropies, and added to the $3.5 billion he has already donated over time. The total donation amount appears to give the Prince the current title of the largest charitable donation amount in the world.
Let's look at a few of the other biggest charitable donations, headed by the co-founders of the Giving Pledge.
- Warren Buffett – In 2006, the Oracle of Omaha donated $30 billion in Berkshire Hathaway Stock to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. These donations were given a few conditions: the foundation had to qualify as a charity and operate as one, Bill and Melinda Gates had to be involved in the administration, and the charity had to give away at least the same amount as the previous year's gift.
According to Forbes, as of 2014, Buffett gave away $19.9 billion, or 30% of his net worth up to that point in time. 2014 donations according to SEC filings include $2.8 billion to the Gates Foundation and just over $800 million to charitable foundations headed by his family.
- Bill and Melinda Gates – In 1999, Bill and Melinda Gates donated $11 billion to their foundation, which is now the largest private charitable funding organization in the world. Their total lifetime giving was $30.2 billion as of 2014, or approximately 37% of their net worth.
- Gordon Moore – The co-founder of Intel pledged $5 billion in 2000 to his foundation that focuses on science and environmental concerns as well as nursing education. Moore’s foundation has reportedly given away $2.6 billion of that over time.
- George Soros – Soros has donated approximately $10.7 billion over time, or 45% of his net worth, making him one of the most generous of the mega-rich with respect to the percentage of income given away. The giving has not come in one large pledge but as a continuous process throughout the years.
- Carlos Slim Helú – Some may be surprised to find the Mexican magnate on this list, since he has publicly stated that creating jobs does more good than "band-aid charitable giving." Yet he has doled out the band-aids himself over the years, donating approximately $8 billion to charities worldwide. That's approximately 9% of his net worth.
- William Hewlett – The $6 billion donation in 2001 by the estate of the Hewlett-Packard co-founder was one of the largest single donations ever made. The William and Flora Hewlett foundation continues on today with over $7 billion in assets.
Many other philanthropists have given large amounts of money or have pledged to do so in the future, such as Michael Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg, the members of the Walton family, and the entire list at the Giving Pledge. We are glad to see a charitable trend rising, and hope it continues. Perhaps we will reach the point where "the one percent" will not be used as a pejorative.
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