‘Tis the season for giving, and chief executives are among the givingest. Just last year, America’s 50 most generous donors, consisting nearly entirely of founders and CEOs, presented $10.2 billion to nonprofit organizations and initiatives throughout the world—a 33 percent increase from the year before.
Leading the pack are those who amassed their wealth in technology, including an impressive cast of “under 40″ gurus, three of whom each offered up more than $500 million last year alone. These younger donors seem more interested in promoting immediate change than waiting for endowments to build up over time. “They’re always looking for a better mousetrap,” explains Michael Moody, a professor at Grand Valley State University’s Johnson Center for Philanthropy. “For a lot of them, that’s how they made their significant wealth.”
Young or old, tech or otherwise, here’s a look at ten of the most charitable executives in America:
Nicholas and Jill Woodman, GoPro, Net worth: $1.27 billion
Last year, GoPro CEO Nicholas Woodman donated a whopping $500 million to initiate a donor-advised fund with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which provides educational assistance and scholarships to students in California. Mission details will be released “at a later date,” but according to SVCF’s chief executive, the foundation “tries to meet donors where they are in fulfilling their charitable interests, whatever they might be. And they are often overlapping and interconnected charitable interests.” Whatever the Woodmans end up funding, the couple’s generosity is stunning given that their net worth, though sizable, is considerably below others included in this list.
Sean Parker, Napster, Net worth: $2.5 billion
Thirty-five year old entrepreneur Sean Parker co-founded file-sharing service Napster and served as the first president of Facebook. Over the summer, Parker announced three priorities for his recently launched $600 million foundation: civic engagement, global public health and life sciences. “My guiding principle of all of my engagement is I try to only focus on the problems where I have some insight or a set of relationships or capabilities where I can actually do something about it and see a path to zero,” he said.
Gordon Moore, Intel, Net worth: $7 billion
Intel founder Gordon Moore and his wife Betty laid out $5 billion to establish the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which targets the environment, conservation, science and San Francisco Bay Area. The couple’s reach includes the following gifts: $600 million to Conservation International through various grants; another $600 million to California Institute of Technology; $100 million to the University of California nursing school; $20 million to Wildlife Conservation Society; $20 Million to Nature Conservancy; and $2.5 million to Third Sector New England for marine conservation.
Jan Koum, WhatsApp, Net worth: $8.7 billion
Ukraine-born Jan Koum is the Internet entrepreneur and computer engineer who co-founded and sold mobile-messaging company WhatsApp to Facebook for $21.8 billion. As a result, he snagged the third position on Forbes’ 2015 list of America’s Richest Entrepreneurs Under 40. Koum’s rags-to-riches story no doubt influenced his decision to gift $556 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, making him the fourth most generous donor on The Chronicle’s Philanthropy 50 list for 2014.
Paul Allen, Microsoft, Net worth: $18.1 billion
Paul Allen describes himself first as a philanthropist, then as an investor, entrepreneur, author, Seahawks & Blazers team owner, guitarist, neuroscience supporter, space pioneer—and lastly, as co-founder of Microsoft.A longtime member of the charitable elite, Allen presented $298 million to the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and Allen Institute for Cell Science last year, and has been recognized for donating hundreds of millions of dollars to various initiatives, including founding and funding the widely popular Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum in Seattle.
Sergey Brin, Google, Net worth: $38.1 billion
As co-founder of Google, Sergey Brin helped create the world’s most popular search engine, and as a result, became one of the wealthiest entrepreneurs in the world. In 2014, he gave a $383 million boost to the Brin Wojcicki Foundation, bankrolling various initiatives for social entrepreneurship, women’s issues, environmental and educational grants, Parkinson’s research and poverty elimination in northern California. The Russian-born computer scientist is now president of Alphabet, the new parent company he and Google co-founder Larry Page announced in August.
Michael Bloomberg, Bloomberg Net worth: $41 billion
American business magnate and politician Michael Bloomberg solidifies his philanthropic status by gifting away billions of dollars to charity. His foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, has been named among the most innovative organizations in the nation, supporting many programs that could be considered controversial, such as teaching high school graduates in Tanzania to perform appendectomies and cesarean sections. According to Bloomberg, private citizen contributions like his own should test new ideas not yet addressed and use these results to get government money for implementing related programs. Last year, Bloomberg donated $462 million toward arts, education, environmental and public health programs aimed at improving city governments around the world. And in 2011, he sent more than $300 million to 1,185 nonprofits—amounting to more than three a day, that year alone.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook, Net worth: $46.7 billion
In 2013, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan became the youngest people in history to top the list of most philanthropic Americans (both were 29 at the time). The couple donated 18 million shares, valued at $1 billion, to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Earlier this month, the Zuckerbergs announced a $20 million initiative to supply schools across America with speedy Internet, especially those currently lacking broadband, as well as a $75 million gift to the newly renamed Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, where Chan trained as a pediatrician. Zuckerberg and Chan represent a new wave of young tech billionaires, including Parker and Brin, who are opting to donate large sums in their 20s and 30s, instead of waiting until they are older. Rather than disrupt philanthropy, “I’d say that we’re trying to help people,” Zuckerberg explains. “Just like anything else you want to do well, investing in social-good projects takes practice,” he added. “This is the reason why we’re starting when we’re young.”
Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway, Net worth: $63.9 billion
Legendary investor Warren Buffett made the single greatest charitable donation of 2014 with a $2.1 billion gift (in the form of 16.6 million shares) to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As part of his annual giving pledge, Buffett gifted away another $2.8 billion last July, marking his tenth year in a row for supporting such organizations, including four charities headed by Buffett family members. The latest donation happens to break his personal philanthropy record, yet again.
Bill and Melinda Gates, Microsoft, Net worth: $79.5 billion
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda might just be the richest, most charitable couple on the planet. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of their vast philanthropic reach: $28 billion to initiatives for better health, education and economic advancements in developing countries; nearly $11 billion for developing and distributing vaccines to kids in need; $755 million for polio eradication; $500 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis; and $210 million to Cambridge University for scholarships.What’s more, in 2006 Gates and Buffett initiated the Giving Pledge to encourage the world’s wealthiest to join in pledging more than half of their wealth to charitable causes. “When we started the Giving Pledge a few years ago, we had no idea we’d get this many people to come together,” Bill Gates said. Today, the pledge has been taken by 137 individuals and couples, including Gordon and Betty Moore, Paul Allen, Michael Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan.
It may seem obvious to pair extremely wealthy CEOs with equally enormous generosity, but not all big-time CEOs seem to get in the spirit of giving. Still, many donations are made anonymously, and this list is far from conclusive. When it comes to giving back, these executives are obviously at the top of their game, same as in business, hoping to make the world better not by steps but strides at a time.
Kristi McCain is a freelance writer and public relations specialist based in Washington state.