Giving by the fifty biggest donors in the United States totaled $7.8 billion in 2018, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports.
Although the total is down significantly from the $14.7 billion given by the top fifty donors in 2017, it is well above the $5.6 billion given by the top 50 in 2016 and the nearly $7 billion given in 2015. Topping the Chronicle's Philanthropy 50 list are Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, who launched a $2 billion fund focused on helping struggling families, followed by Michael Bloomberg, who gave $767 million in support of the arts, education, the environment, health, and other causes. Others on the list include Pierre and Pam Omidyar, who directed $392 million to organizations working to promote democracy, civic engagement, and an independent news media; Stephen A. Schwarzman ($390 million), who made a $350 million commitment to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to advance the study of artificial intelligence; and Steve and Connie Ballmer ($295 million), whose giving supported health care, education, and economic mobility initiatives, with a focus on Los Angeles, Detroit, and Washington State.
Rounding out the top ten were the late Paul G. Allen ($261.4 million), Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan ($213.5 million), John and Laura Arnold ($204.3 million), Jay Alix ($200 million), and Edward P. Bass ($160 million). Bill and Melinda Gates ($138 million), who ranked first in 2017, fell to twelfth place, while Craig Newmark debuted on the list at eleventh place with $143.8 million in giving, most of it in support of journalism.
According to the Chronicle, one striking feature of last year's giving by the biggest donors was their emphasis on the future, with many gifts supporting efforts to advance artificial intelligence or other technological advances. At the same time, more donors indicated they plan to give some or all of their fortunes to charitable causes more quickly. The list includes fourteen signatories to the Giving Pledge, an initiative launched by the Gateses and Warren Buffett in 2010 to encourage billionaires to commit at least half their wealth to charity during their lifetimes. The Chronicle also notes that the wealthiest individuals and couples are not necessarily the ones giving the most; only twenty-one of those on the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans appeared on this year's Philanthropy 50 list.
"There's a lot of anxiety about the future right now," Center for Effective Philanthropy president Phil Buchanan told the Chronicle. "Whether it's artificial intelligence or gun violence or the lack of economic and social mobility, there's a lot to worry about. Maybe we're seeing that anxiety about the future playing out in choices about giving."