Major giving didn’t follow its usual script in 2020.
Large universities, medical centers, and other well-established organizations usually receive the biggest contributions. Some of those institutions were the top beneficiaries of 2020, but they were joined by a new environmental grant maker, a nonprofit dedicated to modernizing elections, a network of food banks, and a charity that builds housing for people experiencing homelessness. And in another departure from the norm, two billionaire philanthropists skipped mega-gifts this year and instead gave significant donations to large numbers of charities that provide social services or fight for social and racial justice.
One blockbuster donation was the eye-popping $10 billion Jeff Bezos gave to launch the Bezos Earth Fund, which was the largest contribution in 2020. The Amazon founder created the fund to support nonprofits fighting climate change. Bezos, the wealthiest American, with an estimated net worth of $192billion, according to Forbes, has so far given more than $790 million to at least 16 environmental groups through the fund, according to a Chronicle tally.
The Chronicle’s annual rankings are based on the 10 largest publicly announced gifts. The tally does not include contributions of artwork or anonymous donations.
Nike co-founder Phil Knight and his wife, Penny, gave $900.7 million to their Knight Foundation, taking the No. 2 spot on the list. The Knights also gave $300 million to the University of Oregon for a variety of programs they’ve helped establish in recent years. The Knights primarily support scientific research, and Phil Knight has said in recent years that he plans to give away the bulk of his fortune. Forbes pegs his net worth at $52 billion.
Not the Usual Recipients
Several donations on the list went to charities that don’t usually land eight- or nine-figure sums.
Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his pediatrician wife, Priscilla Chan, made two contributions to the Center for Tech and Civic Life to ensure safe and reliable voting practices in the 2020 election. In September, they gave the nonprofit $250 million, and in October, $100 million. The money went toward grants to local election jurisdictions to pay for staff, training, and equipment to ensure that everyone could vote safely during the pandemic and that polling places had reliable equipment.
Two other donations in 2020 were unusual because the recipients were human-service groups that help people who are most vulnerable to the economic fallout of the pandemic and homelessness. Bezos gave $100 million to Feeding America to back its Covid-19 Response Fund, which helps food banks across the country. And the financier Charles Schwab and his wife, Helen, donated $65 million in October to Tipping Point Community to build more housing for people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco.
The Chronicle’s annual top-10 list of the largest gifts announced by individuals or their foundations and donor-advised funds totaled more than $12.2 billion in 2020. At first glance, that is double 2019’s $6.2 billion total, but the 2020 figure is skewed considerably by Bezos’s $10 billion donation.(Because of ties, the list actually contains 14 gifts. Last year’s had 15.)
Taking that gift out of the analysis leaves a 2020 total of just $2.6 billion, a comparatively small total not seen since 2011.
Not on the List
Gifts from two billionaire donors who gave significant cumulative sums to charity in 2020 do not appear on the list of the 10 biggest gifts because none of their individual donations were large enough to qualify.
MacKenzie Scott, a novelist who was once married to Bezos, has given more than $4 billion in 2020 to hundreds of charities that help people who have been affected by the economic crises caused by the pandemic as well as to social- and racial-justice nonprofits and historically Black colleges and universities. The largest of Scott’s publicized donations were two gifts of $50 million apiece to Prairie View A&M University, an HBCU, and RIP Medical Debt, a debt-relief charity.
Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of the social-media giant Twitter and the payment-processing company Square, has given more than $300 million to about 120 nonprofits through a donor-advised fund attached to Start Small, a limited-liability company he created to facilitate his charitable giving. Like Scott, Dorsey is directing the bulk of his giving to help people most in need right now and to social-justice and racial-justice groups. Dorsey’s largest donations were for $20 million each to the Community Organized Relief Effort, to create free Covid-19 testing sites in major metropolitan areas and rural communities throughout the United States, and to Vital Strategies for its Resolve to Save Lives program, which is working to expand Covid-19 contact tracing nationwide.
In February, the Chronicle will unveil its Philanthropy 50 report, an annual ranking of the 50 biggest donors, a list based on individuals’ total contributions in 2020, not on single gifts. Both Scott and Dorsey will likely appear in that report.
(Culled from The Chronicle of Philanthropy)