The Americans Who Gave Away The Most Money In 2013

1. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan

1. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan

Total:$992.2 million
Recipients: Silicon Valley Community Foundation

Who gave away the most money of any American last year? Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, 29, and wife Priscilla Chan, 28, who donated nearly $1 billion to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. That gift made up a sizable chunk of the $7.7 billion the top 50 Americans gave away to philanthropic causes in 2013, according to the 14th annual Philanthropy 50, a list of Americans who pledged the most money last year, compiled by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The 2013 total rose $300 million from 2012’s $7.4 billion but was down from $10.4 billion in 2011. That year’s tally was skewed upward by a single $6 billion bequest from the late agribusiness heiress Margaret A. Cargill .

Last year’s second-largest gift was also a bequest, $750 million from the late George Mitchell, a Texas energy tycoon and former Forbes 400 member who pioneered fracking, the hydraulic fracturing method for finding natural gas. Before he died in July, Forbes estimated his net worth at $2 billion. He left $750 million to his family foundation, which supports conservation and sustainability. One of the foundation’s goals is to make sure that fracking doesn’t cause lasting environmental damage.

The third-largest donation came from billionaire Philip Knight, cofounder of Nike, and his wife Penelope, who gave $500 million for cancer research at the Oregon Health & Science University Foundation in Portland. The Knights gave $100 million to the University in 2008 to back the Knight Cancer Institute. The new gift, aimed at kick-starting a cancer research initiative, comes with a big challenge: the foundation must match the donation within two years, or lose it. The Knights have been on the Philanthropy 50 four times in the past. Knight is ranked No. 24 on the Forbes 400, with an estimated net worth of $16.3 billion.

It’s not clear what causes the Zuckerberg/Chan donation will fund. The two have said they care about education and health (Chan is a pediatrician). In 2010 Zuckerberg gave $100-million-worth of Facebook  to the Newark, NJ public school system, before the company went public. Then in 2012 he and Chan donated 18 million Facebook shares, which at the time were worth $500 million, to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Since the stock has more than doubled in value since then, that gift is now worth over $1 billion. The Chronicle clocks the latest gift of 18 million shares at $992.2 million, but the stock price keeps rising, pushing the value of the two donations to more than $2 billion.

How will the foundation spend the Zuckerberg/Chan money? That’s confidential, says Sue McAllister, the foundation’s marketing officer, who explains that the foundation doesn’t comment unless donors give specific permission. The foundation directly supports a range of causes, from teacher training programs, to aid for immigrants, affordable housing and services for the homeless like shelters and food banks. But most of the donations that flow through the foundation are in what’s called donor-advised funds, where the foundation serves as advisor and conduit. In late January, the Ravenswood Family Health Center, which runs a health clinic in the low-income neighborhood of East Palo Alto, announced a $5 million gift by Zuckerberg and Chan that came through the foundation. The money will support the construction of a new clinic.

On the most recent Forbes 400 list in September, Zuckerberg ranked No. 20, with a fortune worth $19 billion. With the rise in Facebook stock, he’s now worth a lot more. In December 2012 Zuckerberg joined the Giving Pledge, promising to donate at least half his net worth to charity.

Of the 50 donors on the Chronicle’s list, 23 people/couples are on the Forbes 400. That group gave a total of $4.8 billion in 2013. Also if you exclude bequests from donors who have passed away, the total giving among the top 50 was $6.2 billion. That’s roughly equal to the amount living donors gave in the previous two years combined. Still, Zuckerberg and Chan’s relative youth was the exception. The median age of living donors on the list is 72.5.

Some of America’s biggest givers, like Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates are conspicuously absent from the list. That’s because of the Chronicle’s methodology. It does not count pledges made in previous years, even if the money didn’t flow until 2013. Examples: Bill and Melinda Gates gave their foundation $181 million last year, which would have landed them at No. 14 on the list, but they were paying off a $3.3 billion pledge they made in 2004. (They have given $3.5 billion to that end, more than they originally promised).

As for Buffett, in 2006 he pledged a stunning $30 billion to the Gates foundation. So far he has given more than $13 billion of that, including Berkshire Hathaway shares worth $2 billion last year, which would have landed him at No. 1 on the list. He also made payments totaling $341.3 million to four Buffett family foundations. He has pledged to give away 99% of his fortune, which Forbes last pegged at $58.5 billion in September when he landed at No. 2 behind Bill Gates on the Forbes 400.


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