The members of The Forbes 400 have made a lot of money. They haven’t given all that much of it away.
By Phoebe Liu, Forbes Staff
America’s wealthiest people also rank among the nation’s biggest philanthropists, donating billions toward cures for disease, college endowments and climate initiatives. But how generous are the super-rich, really? Not very, according to Forbes’ research. The members of the 2023 Forbes 400 list have collectively given more than $250 billion to charity, by our count—less than 6% of their combined net worth.
Of course, some are much more generous than others. To see how philanthropic each Forbes 400 member has been, Forbes dug into their known charitable giving and assigned each a philanthropy score, ranging from 1 to 5. If we couldn’t find any information about a person’s giving and they declined to provide details, we gave them a score of N/A.
To calculate the scores, we added the value of each billionaire’s out-the-door lifetime giving estimate to their 2023 Forbes 400 net worth, then divided their lifetime giving by that sum. Each score corresponds to a range of giving as a percentage of a person’s net worth. We once again counted only out-the-door giving, rather than cash sitting in billionaires’ private foundations or tax-advantaged donor-advised funds that may not have made it to those in need. We reached out to every list member for feedback. Many have foundations with publicly available tax filings that provide details on yearly grants, although those details often have a one- or two-year lag. Some provided specific details about additional donations and recipients. Others declined to comment.
Two thirds of the billionaires on The Forbes 400 scored a 1 or 2, meaning they have given less than 5% of their fortune to charity. That’s in line with previous years, though for the first time since 2020, when Forbes began tracking billionaires’ out-the-door giving, the number of Forbes 400 members who gave away between 1 and 4.99% of their wealth (scoring a 2) surpassed the number who gave away less than 1% of their wealth (scoring a 1).
Still, only eleven of America’s 400 richest people have given away more than 20% of their stash, per Forbes’ estimates, earning a rare 5: John Arnold, Edythe Broad, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Melinda French Gates, Amos Hostetter Jr., Pierre Omidyar, MacKenzie Scott, Lynn Schusterman, Jeff Skoll and George Soros.
The Forbes 400 2023 Philanthropy Score Breakdown
For the fourth year in a row, hedge fund tycoon and prominent left-wing supporter George Soros is the biggest giver of all, as measured by percentage of fortune. He’s donated more than $19 billion, nearly three times his current net worth, over the past four-plus decades, almost exclusively through his Open Society Foundations, which focus on areas of democratic principles like freedom of expression, human rights and climate justice. This summer, the 93-year-old handed the reins to his son Alex Soros, who announced plans for the organization to reduce headcount “significantly” and shift its focus away from Western Europe toward the U.S. and Ukraine.
Seventy list members have promised via the Giving Pledge to give away more than half of their wealth by their death, but Soros—who hasn’t signed the pledge—is the only philanthropist on The Forbes 400 who has hit the mark thus far, by Forbes’ estimates.
MacKenzie Scott is well on her way, however. She’s quickly doled out nearly $15 billion in grants since her 2019 divorce from Jeff Bezos (No. 2)—mostly via relatively small (less than $10 million), no-strings-attached gifts to local charities. In December, she demystified some of her process by launching a website, YieldGiving.com, that includes a database detailing $10.6 billion of her estimated $14.4 billion in lifetime giving. And, in March, she began soliciting grant applications for the first time via her “Open Call,” which will give $1 million each to 250 organizations next year.
Grading the Giving
This year’s Forbes 400 is a bit more philanthropic relative to their fortunes, with more people having given at least 1% of their net worth to charity than last year.
In dollar terms, though, Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett takes the title of the U.S.’ most generous person—he’s donated an estimated $55 billion, mainly to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as four charities set up by Buffett’s three children and his late wife.
HERE’S A GUIDE TO EACH SCORE
DATA AS OF SEPTEMBER 8, 2023
1: Has given away less than 1% of wealth
Who got this score: Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison, Nvidia cofounder Jensen Huang and 124 others.
2: Has given away 1% to 4.99% of wealth
Who got this score: Meta cofounder Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, investor Carl Icahn and 138 others.
3: Has given away 5% to 9.99% of wealth
Who got this score: Brokerage billionaire Charles Schwab, hedge fund titan Steve Cohen, music and film mogul David Geffen and 51 others.
4: Has given away 10% to 19.99% of wealth
Who got this score: Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, Salesforce cofounder Marc Benioff, hedge fund billionaire Jim Simons and 17 others.
5: Has given away 20% or more of wealth
Who got this score: John Arnold, Edythe Broad, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Melinda French Gates, Amos Hostetter Jr., Pierre Omidyar, MacKenzie Scott, Lynn Schusterman, Jeff Skoll and George Soros.
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