America’s wealthiest break philanthropic records: Gift USD 7.7 billion

Photo of author
Written By Hasan Rezazadeh

It seems America’s most generous donors have thrown caution to the wind, with this year’s Chronicle ranking of the 50 biggest philanthropists blasting through records to feature multimillion-dollar gifts to hospitals, colleges and other notable causes.

Caution marked much of the giving in the previous years as the American economy stalled, yet in 2013, the 50 biggest donors donated USD 7.7 billion.

This is a 4% increase from 2012, and what’s more, the USD 86.1 million median – boosted by multiple large gifts such as a USD 750 million donation to an environmental foundation – is a new philanthropic record.

Of particular note is the USD 6.2 billion total pledged by living donors – which is almost as large as the past two year’s living donar totals combined.

It is also the most that living donors have pledged since 2008.

Facebook and fracking

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan led the pack last year with their gift of 18 million shares in Facebook – amounting to nearly USD 1 billion – to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

This has helped catapult the organisation into one of the largest US foundations – yet so far no party has revealed details regarding how or where the money will be invested.

Yet it may be George Mitchell who is perhaps the most noteworthy on this year’s list.

His bequest to fund research into reducing the damage caused during fracking, which amounted to an estimated USD 750 million upon his death in July aged 94, has seen him bequeath his estate into reducing the damage of the practice which made him a millionaire.

After a relatively humble childhood and a summer job during his teens in the Louisiana oil fields, Mitchell is credited as the first tycoon to fully commercialise hydraulic fracturing.

He sold his oil exploration organisation for USD 3 billion in 2002.

Ages and spaces

Whilst Zuckerburg and Chan – who both come in under 30 years of age – topped the list, the median age was 72.5.

Of these, the majority were men, and almost half had earned their fortunes in finance or investments.

Furthermore 12 had earned their wealth in real estate, and six in tech.

Whilst hospitals, foundations and colleges received the lion’s share of the gifts worth over USD 1 million, causes supporting the environment, children, and public broadcasting took in the least money from donors.

Nineteen of the 50 donors had signed the Giving Pledge started by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet.