Philanthropist Paul Allen Continues Giving to Wide Range of Causes

Within the next year or so, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen will have given away a total of $1 billion to a wide array of charitable causes, putting him among an elite group of philanthropists, the Puget Sound Business Journal reports.

The son of a middle-class family from Seattle, Allen has been known for using his self-made billions to support an extravagant lifestyle. But that reputation has changed as Allen, through the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, has given more and more of his fortune — an estimated $925 million to date — to dozens of sometimes obscure and personal charitable causes.

Unlike fellow Seattleites Bill and Melinda Gates, who focus their grantmaking on a global scale, Allen's giving is largely an extension of his own curious mind. Although Allen's first major gifts supported environmental issues like the preservation of old-growth forests, the majority of his philanthropy — some $444 million — has gone to museums and learning institutions reflective of his personal interests, including the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and the Flying Heritage Collection. Another $75 million has gone to advancing brain research and $12 million to philanthropic work associated with the two professional sports franchises Allen owns.

While not endowed with billions of dollars like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Allen Family Foundation has become one of the Pacific Northwest's most important grantmakers, giving away some $30 million a year to local nonprofits. And as is the case with Gates, funding from the Allen Family Foundation has come to represent a kind of seal of approval for nonprofits in the region, enabling them to raise their profile and more easily persuade other donors to give.

Although Allen sees his philanthropy as a way to explore his personal interests, he also sees it as an obligation because of his incredible wealth — estimated by Forbes to be almost $16 billion — and said he plans to eventually dedicate more time to philanthropy, perhaps expanding his focus to include climate change. "I think you are always asking yourself, how can I do more?" Allen said. "There are so many things locally or in the world that cry out for a difference to be made. Hopefully, your heart and your mind respond to those challenges in whatever way you want to make a difference."