America's Biggest Donors In 2023

Despite America's billionaires (all 806 of them) having 57% more wealth than 65 million combined United States households, charitable giving was down in 2023. In fact, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the top 50 givers in the country gave just under $12 billion last year, a whopping 28% below the (inflation-adjusted) $16.5 billion given in 2022. To make matters worse, what qualifies as charitable giving is more lenient than you might realize, meaning much of the money that's counted as charitable giving hasn't actually been given to an organization as of yet (but billionaires can enjoy the tax break anyway). Meanwhile, the richest families in the country have a combined $8.5 trillion in untaxed income.

In addition to the skimpy nature of donations in 2023, it's worth noting that more than one-third of these charitable gifts went directly to the donor's personal foundation. Another significant portion of these donations went directly to donor-advised funds (DAFs), which function like savings accounts so that donors can reserve their assets, supposedly for future charitable gifts. This means this money has not actually been gifted to an organization yet, despite qualifying as part of the charitable giving totals for the year. What's more, while foundations are required to either give away or spend 5% of their assets every year, DAFs have no such requirements. Also worth mentioning, of the Forbes 400 list (of the richest Americans), only 23 of them donated enough money to even appear on the list of the top 50 givers in 2023.

Who gives the most in America

It's important to realize that how formal charitable giving is "counted" in the United States can be tricky. For instance, the Chronicle of Philanthropy has very specific methodology it uses to compile its list of top donors every year, and this methodology can leave out important donors.

According to the formal methodology, former New York City mayor and media founder Michael Bloomberg was America's biggest donor in 2023 with an estimated $3 billion given toward a wide range of programs and focuses. Bloomberg's donations supported initiatives in the arts, education, environment, and public health, in addition to programs dedicated to improving city governments. Coming in second was Nike co-founder Phil Knight and his wife who donated $1.24 billion, with a more geographic focus to their giving. In addition to financial support for the University of Oregon, the Knights also funded a poverty-fighting effort focused on Portland, Oregon. Michael Dell (the founder of Dell Technologies) and his wife were third, with almost $976 million in donations to a wide variety of charitable organizations.

Looking outside of this more formal methodology, big donors are often left off of the Chronicle of Philanthropy's list; donors like MacKenzie Scott, who gave $2.1 billion across 360 organizations in 2023. It's also worth mentioning that the biggest individual gift in 2023 came from Warren Buffett, who donated $541.5 million worth of Berkshire Hathaway Class "B" stock (NYSE: BRK.B) to the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, the grant-making foundation named after his first wife. (See our guide for the best money tips you can steal from Warren Buffett.)

Who gives the least

While philanthropy can be used as a way for the wealthy to gain tax write-offs (and avoid paying taxes without breaking the law), many billionaires still avoid it. According to Forbes, which gives a philanthropy score to each of the 400 members of its richest Americans list, most billionaires aren't particularly generous. In fact, per Forbes' 2023 report, while those on its "400" list had given over $250 billion to charity, this is only ~6% of their collective wealth (of $4.5 trillion). To make matters worse, only 11% had given away more than 20% of their net worth, while a staggering 67% gave away less than 5%.

Among the worst offenders (those who have given away less than 1% of their net worth over their lifetime) include Tesla CEO and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, and Nvidia co-founder Jensen Huang. Meanwhile, Amazon's founder Jeff Bezos and Meta's co-founder Mark Zuckerberg are among the other big names who have given away more than 1% but still less than 5%.

Another important consideration in the lack of billionaire generosity, though, ties back to a donor's individual foundation. As previously mentioned, foundations are required to give away 5% of their assets, however, many do not. A good example being the Musk Foundation, which has failed to give away its minimum required assets since 2021. In 2021, the foundation was $41 million short of its minimum required donation, while in 2022, it missed the mark by $234 million.