This year three generous couples under the age of 40 gave away more than $1.1 billion, drawing major attention to the spoils of high tech entrepreneurship in the U.S. and the community-minded spirit of some of the nation’s wealthiest young people.
For the first time ever, three young couples fall in the top five most generous donors on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual Philanthropy 50 list. All told, more than 15 per cent of the $7.4 billion in wealth came from post-Boomer pockets.
The total committed by the top 50 donors in 2012 is down from the 2011 total of $10.4 billion and the list is, in fact, topped by its eldest member.
At 82, elder statesman of American philanthropy, Warren Buffett gave $3.084 billion to charity, accounting for 42 per cent of the grand total and more than three times as much than anyone else on the list.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Chronicle says it’s completely unprecedented to see young philanthropists top its list. “We’ve just never seen this in philanthropy,” says Chronicle editor Stacy Palmer told my colleague Susan Adams.
“Usually we have pictures of old white men on the top of the list.” The total donated by three rather young (albeit white) men and their wives in 2012 was $1.145 billion.
Following Warren Buffett are Mark Zuckerberg, 28, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, 27, whose family fortune was last estimated by FORBES at $9.6 billion and at No. 2 gave $498.8 million.
Back in December Zuckerberg and Chan made the announcement that the Facebook couple would join Buffett’s Giving Pledge, in which the mega-wealthy promise to give away half of their wealth during their lifetimes of upon their death.
At the same time Zuckerberg gifted 18 million Facebook shares, or nearly $500 million, to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, an organisation that makes grants to low-income families for housing, to teacher training programs, to after-school and summer math training programs.
No. 3 on the Philanthropy 50 list are Texas couple John and Laura Arnold, both 38, whose $3 billion net worth made them generous donors in 2012.
All told, they gave away $423.4 of their personal fortune in 2012 and through their own foundation launched the Education Resource Information Navigator, a tool intended to analyse the K-12 education landscape as well as the Giving Library, which the couple hopes other wealthy philanthropists will use to identify new opportunities for giving.
The couple is known in philanthropy circles as particularly under-the radar; they are not of the “name a building at my school” sort of donors, but rather passionately committed to their causes–most notably education reform.
Google’s Sergey Brin and wife Anne Wojcicki (sister of PowerWoman Susan Wojcicki) finish the list of under-40s at No. 5. In 2012 the generous couple gave $222.9 million to various causes, including a $132 million pledge to the battle against Parkinson disease, most to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
Brin became passionate about the cause in 2005 when he discovered he carries the flawed gene that gives him a 50 per cent chance of developing the brain disease. His wife Anne is a biotech expert and co-founder of 23andME, a genetic testing company based in Mountain View, California. The couple’s donations have helped to build a database of 7,000 patients’ DNA to explore genetic causes of the disease, research that will help pharma firms like Pfizer and GSK to pursue breakthrough medications.
Brin’s commitment to philanthropy is remarkable; beyond his personal giving he also played a critical role in developing the Google Global Impact grants in 2012.
The first round of grants, which benefitted seven programs from clean water initiatives to gender bias in media, gave $23 million to research and innovation.
This powerful young group—the Arnolds the Brins and the Zuckerbergs–represents a combined net worth of $32.7 billion, but more than that the contagious spirit of giving among the world’s wealthiest.
In the case of Brin and Zuckerberg, it also speaks volumes of the spoils of entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley—a decade ago both men were virtual unknowns and now their money (and the businesses they’ve built) are quite literally changing the world.
That the youngest members of the Philanthropy 50 list are among its highest donors is also indicative of the giving nature of younger Americans.
According to 201’s Millennial Impact Report, Generation Y is among the most generous cohorts walking the planet. Three out of four young adults donated money to a charity or cause in 2012 and 70 per cent said they encouraged donations from friends and colleagues.