Actions speak louder than words: While it may be easy to make promises, true generosity involves actually giving away the greenbacks. To discover who doled out the most money in 2017, Forbes partnered with Boca Raton, Florida’s SHOOK Research, and tracked the philanthropists who made good on their pledges. We only count money that reaches beneficiaries – and exclude commitments that have yet to be paid out or donations that are still sitting as foundation assets. (See the full methodology here).
Many of America’s Top 50 Givers are among the richest in the country; nine of the top ten givers are members of the 2018 Forbes 400, as well as 40 of the top 50 overall. For the fourth straight year, Warren Buffett is No. 1 on the list, with 2017 giving of $2.8 billion. The Berkshire Hathaway chairman, who signed the Giving Pledge in 2006, gave more than $2 billion to close friends Bill and Melinda Gates’ foundation, and split the rest between the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation (named after his late wife) and three foundations set up by his children.
Bill and Melinda Gates are right behind at No. 2 with $2.5 billion in 2017 donations. The couple have given over $35 billion to their foundation since 1994, and the nonprofit is now the biggest private charitable foundation in the world. Top grantees in 2017 include the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Gates Medical Research Institute and Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.
Two Facebook cofounders, Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz, also made the ranks. In 2015, Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan founded limited liability company Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), which focuses on science, education, justice and economic opportunity — and does impact investing and advocacy as well as philanthropy. The couple, who pledged to give away 99% of their Facebook shares in their lifetime, donated $400 million to charity last year. Moskovitz, who set up Good Ventures Foundation with his wife Cari Tuna, gave away $298 million in 2017; his foundation supports causes including animal welfare and artificial intelligence research.
While some philanthropists’ dollars reach all four corners of the globe, others like to focus a little closer to home. Real estate magnate Bill Cummings, whose Cummings Properties owns more than 10 million square feet of commercial space in the greater Boston area, started a “$100K for 100” program at his foundation in 2012. The initiative gives out 100 grants of $100,000 every year to local nonprofits supporting human services, education, healthcare, and social justice. He and his wife gave away $35 million in total last year.
Similarly, when Hurricane Harvey struck in 2017, Dell computers founder and Austin billionaire Michael Dell jumped into action, launching the Rebuild Texas Fund through his Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. The campaign aims to raise over $100 million to aid in the long-term recovery of communities affected by the hurricane; Dell’s foundation committed $36 million to the effort.
Higher education is another popular cause among the top givers. In 2017, Home Depot cofounder Bernard Marcus gave $11 million to Duke University for stem cell therapy research, and committed $38 million to the University of Colorado to create a brain institute. Hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin committed $125 million in November 2017 to University of Chicago’s economics department, while Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen gave $50 million to the University of Washington to help establish a computer science and engineering school.
In total, members of America’s Top 50 Givers donated $12.6 billion in 2017 — up from $12.2 billion in 2016. Collectively, the group’s lifetime giving exceeds $158 billion.