Philanthropist: Definition and List of Top 10 Modern Philanthropists


What is a philanthropist?

A philanthropist is someone who seeks to improve or promote the welfare of others. They do this by generously donating to charitable causes. Alternatively, they use their wealth to establish charitable organizations that focus on one or several causes.

Over the years, philanthropy has evolved from donations to education institutions into magnates and businesses publicly committing to a cause. The sole purpose of such public commitments is to effectively move the needle on key issues. Some examples of causes include climate change, world hunger, and or human rights. More and more, celebrities and business leaders publicly commit to charitable causes. As a result, society has become very critical of philanthropists, scrutinizing individuals and organizations. What and how monies donated are spent are examined with a magnifying glass. Additionally, who philanthropists associate themselves with is also comes under fire.

Top 10 Modern Philanthropists

The following are the top 10 givers, according to Forbe’s The 25 Philanthropists in America Making the Biggest Donations list.

  1. Warren Buffet – The oracle from Omaha, Buffet is an outspoken advocate of the super-rich becoming a philanthropist and giving away their wealth. Between 2014 through 2018, Buffet gave away approximately 16.3% of his $90 billion dollar net worth. This translates into $14.7 billion fueled by initiatives focusing on health and poverty alleviation. One of Buffet’s largest gifts is a $37 billion pledge to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2006.
  2. Bill and Melinda Gates – the Gates Foundation focuses on poverty alleviation through economic development, healthcare, and education. In March 2020, Bill made the full dive into his co-founded foundation by stepping down from his Board of Director roles at Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway[1]. Also, both Melinda and Bill committed $100 million to fight the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
  3. George Soros – while his reputation precedes him, Soros has given 37.4% of his net worth to charity. He is the founder of the Open Society Foundations, an umbrella organization for over 20 regional and national foundations. These foundations focus on human rights, voter rights, and criminal justice reform.
  4. Michael Bloomberg – having served as the mayor of New York City, Bloomberg made his wealth through the famous Bloomberg L.P. His charitable foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropy, was recently reported to have donated $1.8 billion dollars, John Hopkins University.
  5. Walton Family – started by the founders of Walmart, Sam and Helen Walton, the Walton Family Foundation focuses on improving education and quality of life in America. The family is one of the richest families in the world, and the foundation is currently run by second-and third-generation family members. One of the largest gifts includes a $197.4 million gift to the University of Arkansas for an interdisciplinary research institute.
  6. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan – Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have given away 99% of their wealth from Facebook shares over their lifetime. Their non-profit, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the aims at advancing science education, immigration reform, and housing affordability.
  7. Jim & Marilyn Simons – American mathematician turned billionaire hedge fund manager and his wife devote their philanthropic efforts to STEM. Through their nonprofit, the Simons Foundation, they focus on supporting high school math and science teachers, ensuring continued education and interest in the subjects.
  8. Hansjoerg Wyss – after building his wealth through Swiss medical devices, Wyss now focuses on saving the environment. His goal by 2030 is to protect 30% of the earth’s surface by partnering with locals to buy land to prevent development.
  9. Pierre Omidyar – The founder of eBay started Omidyar Group in order to address poverty, human rights, and education. Over the course of five years, he has given $1.4 billion to these causes in countries like Africa and India.
  10. Gordon and Betty Moore – with more than $1.4 billion in charitable donations over five years, the Intel co-founder and his wife focus their efforts on environmental conversation and scientific research.

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Notable significant philanthropists

  • Rockefeller – one of the most famous philanthropist American families in modern history, the Rockefeller family has a track record for donating to many institutions leaving little restrictions. Instead of identifying key issues to tackle, the donation philosophy was to hire good people and allow them free rein to pursue research and projects that would benefit the world. Benefactors of the Rockefellers include The University of Chicago and Yale Medical School.
  • Hank Rowan – in a $100 million gift to a lesser well-known college in New Jersey, Rowan set off a trend among other business magnates to start making mega donations to educational institutions.


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