Close Close

Financial Planning > Charitable Giving > Donor Advised Funds

Top 10 Most Generous U.S. Donors: 2015

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.

The biggest American philanthropists increased their donations by 27.5% in 2014, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s 15th annual Philanthropy 50 list of America’s most generous donors.

Mega-gifts by technology entrepreneurs drove this increase, The Chronicle reported.  

Twelve donors on the list came from the technology world, and their giving was outsize compared with that of people in other industries, The Chronicle found.

It represented 47% of the $9.8 billion in donations made by the Philanthropy 50 in 2014.

The report said giving by Philanthropy 50 donors who amassed their fortunes in technology had increased by more than 1,000% over the past five years, whereas 2014 donations from people who made money in finance had dropped to near 2012 levels.

It said this trend could end finance moguls’ dominance among the nation’s largest philanthropists. Eleven of the donors on the Philanthropy 50 list made their wealth in finance, compared with 14 on last year’s list.

The donors in finance provided a little more than $1 billion last year, just a quarter of what the tech donors gave. Non-tech donors contributed 42% of the total last year.

The Chronicle based its Philanthropy 50 list primarily on gifts and pledges of cash and stock to nonprofit organizations.

It said rankings were based on new commitments philanthropists made to their foundations and to other nonprofits in 2014, and did not count payments on past pledges, to avoid counting the same gifts twice.

This left some of America’s biggest donors off the current Philanthropy 50 list even though they had written big checks to charity last year.

Warren Buffett, for example, continued to follow through on a long-term commitment he had made in 2006.

The report noted that much of the money donated last year by the top 50 American philanthropists had not yet been earmarked for a cause, which could result in more demands on Capitol Hill and elsewhere for donor-advised funds and other endowments to distribute their dollars faster.

Despite the presence on the top 50 list of eight couples or individuals under 50, the median age of those making big donations was 73, about the same as last year, The Chronicle noted.

Some 60% of the total donated by the top 50 last year — $5.8 billion — went to 17 foundations, the most money given to any type of entity, followed by $1.5 billion to 25 colleges and universities.

Donors under 40 were especially likely to put their money into foundations and other endowments for later distribution, The Chronicle reported. It said their early gifts pointed to where their dollars would flow eventually.

Michael Moody, who teaches at Grand Valley State University’s Johnson Center for Philanthropy, told The Chronicle that young donors were not interested in building endowments. Rather they wanted to promote immediate change, especially accelerating the pace of scientific discovery.

“They’re always looking for a better mousetrap,” Moody said. “For a lot of them, that’s how they made their significant wealth.”

Many other philanthropists made their biggest gifts to colleges and universities.

Following are the 10 most generous donors on The Chronicle’s 2014 Philanthropy 50 list:

Paul Allen, Founder of Vulcan Capital and co-founder of Microsoft, owner of Seattle Seahawks (Photo: AP)

10. Paul Allen

Allen founded the investment firm Vulcan and co-founded Microsoft.

2014 donation: $298 million

Main beneficiaries: Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and Allen Institute for Cell Science

Sergey Brin, Co-founder of Google. (Photo: AP)

9. Sergey Brin

Brin was a co-founder of Google.

2014 donation: $383 million

Beneficiary: Brin Wojcicki Foundation

Rachel Lambert (Bunny) Mellon

8. Rachel Lambert (Bunny) Mellon

Bunny Mellon, an heiress and widow of Mellon bank fortune scion Paul Mellon, died in 2014.

2014 donation: $411 million

Main beneficiaries: Nonprofits, chiefly the Gerard B. Lambert Foundation to establish an educational institution for the study of botany and horticulture at her Upperville, Virginia, Oak Spring Farm estate.

Michael Bloomberg, former New York City Mayor. (Photo: AP)

7. Michael Bloomberg

Bloomberg founded the namesake financial-data and news-service company. He was mayor of New York from 2002 through 2013.

2014 donation: $462 million

Main beneficiaries: Arts, education, environmental and public health groups and programs aimed at improving city governments around the world.

Nicholas Woodman, founder and CEO of GoPro. (Photo: AP)

6. Nicholas and Jill Woodman

The Woodmans founded GoPro, a company that creates high-definition cameras.

2014 donation: $500 million

Beneficiary: Silicon Valley Community Foundation to start a donor-advised fund they are calling the Jill + Nicholas Woodman Foundation

Sean Parker helped start Napster and was founding president of Facebook. (Photo: AP)

5. Sean Parker

Parker, a technology entrepreneur, helped start Napster and was founding president of Facebook.

2014 donation: $550 million

Main beneficiaries: Sean N. Parker Foundation and his own donor-advised fund

Jan Koum, Co-founder and CEO of Whatsapp. (Photo: AP)

4. Jan Koum

Ukraine-born Koum was a co-founder (with Brian Acton) of WhatsApp, a mobile-messaging company that Facebook acquired a year ago for $21.8 billion.

2014 donation: $556 million

Beneficiary: Silicon Valley Community Foundation

Ted Stanley, founder of MBI

3. Ted Stanley

Stanley was founder of MBI, a company that develops and markets collectible items.

2014 donation: $652 million

Main beneficiary: Broad Institute

Ralph Wilson Jr., Buffalo Bills owner. (Photo: AP)

2. Ralph Wilson Jr.

Wilson, founder of the Buffalo Bills football franchise and owner of manufacturing, mining and other businesses, died in 2014.

2014 donation: $1 billion

Beneficiary: Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation

Bill and Melinda Gates. (Photo: AP)

1. Bill and Melinda Gates

Bill Gates was a co-founder of Microsoft, and he and Melinda Gates are co-chairmen of the foundation they established in 2000.

2014 donation: $1.5 billion

Beneficiary: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a donation of Microsoft stock. The Gateses have not disclosed any other new personal donations since they last appeared on the list in 2009, according to The Chronicle.

— Related on ThinkAdvisor:


© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.