Billionaires had a good year in 2018. A really good year, yet they didn’t share the wealth with nonprofits the way they did in 2017.
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According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, last year the country’s 50 most generous billionaires -- with a list that includes Amazon founder and world’s wealthiest man Jeff Bezos (who made the giving list for the first time), Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg -- gave only about half to charity of what they gave to good causes in 2017.
How much are we talking about, specifically? The country’s wealthiest gave $7.8 billion in disclosed donations in 2018. That may sound like a lot, but the nation’s top 50 mega-donors gave $14.7 billion to charity in 2017.
FOX Business got insight on what may have been behind the decline from Lynn Raynault, CEO and co-founder of Segments of One, an organization that uses data and insights to connect with new clients or new donors who are ultra-high net worth.
2017 was an anomaly year
“I think it’s less about giving less in 2018 (because 2018 was still well above other years), and more about the fact that 2017 was an anomaly year,” says Raynault. Indeed: 2017 was the biggest charity year for the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s megarich since 2008.
Also keep in mind that just one or two donors alone can skew the numbers in either direction, says Raynault.
“Of the top 50 donors in 2017, there were two individuals responsible for 50 percent of the giving. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg collectively gave away nearly $7 billion. The impact that these mega-donors can have year over year is just tremendous.”
Why did Bill Gates and his wife Melinda give $4.8 billion to their foundation in 2017, but only about $150 million in 2018?
“Nearly two-thirds of billionaires are self-made, thus they tend to base their philanthropy on issues relevant to their own principles of success,” says Raynault. In other words, billionaires often give for a specific cause, and related opportunities can fluctuate from year to year.
“For example, in 2018, there were a number of tech billionaires supporting efforts around artificial intelligence and its use in accelerating efforts such as ending hunger, aiding global health care issues or education,” she says.
If billionaires are giving less, it could be because they’re not feeling pressured.
Consider Jeff Bezos. His rise from quiet, private geek to the wealthiest man in the world put him out there. “He was thrown into the spotlight, getting involved politically to some degree, and may have felt pressured now that he’s so insanely public. He may have felt it was his moment to give,” says Raynault.
And give he did: Bezos, after years of giving sparingly, upped the ante and committed $2 million to philanthropic efforts last year.
Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, may have been feeling flush with cash in 2017 when they gave away $2 billion, but 2018 was a rough year for Facebook, with the social media giant facing one crisis after the next.
Zuckerberg saw his net worth take a big hit last year, and in the same year gave away less - for a total of about $200 million. “That’s still a relatively hefty sum and is actually in line with what they’ve given in prior years,” says Raynault.
Vera Gibbons is the founder of nonpoliticalnews.com which produces “NoPo” - a free daily newsletter that covers and curates non-political news only within Consumer/Personal Finance; Health & Wellness; Fashion/Beauty; Fitness/Diet.