Based on the 2019 Forbes 400 list, Buffett topped the rankings of those who have given the most with $38.8 billion in lifetime giving, or 32 percent of his net worth, as of September, up from $35.1 billion, or 28 percent of his net worth, as of September 2018. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation co-chair Bill Gates, who topped the rankings of lifetime givers last year with $35.8 billion (27 percent of his net worth), ranked second this year, with $38.5 billion (25 percent), while Open Society Foundations founder George Soros remained atop the list in terms of lifetime giving as a percentage of total net worth, at 79 percent ($32 billion). (Not all billionaires on the Forbes 400 list provided philanthropic giving information.)
All three men received Forbes' top "philanthropy score" of 5, which is conferred on individuals who have given at least $1 billion and/or 20 percent of their total net worth to philanthropic causes — and who meet other criteria, including whether they have signed the Giving Pledge, have pledged significant gifts, and are personally involved in their charitable giving, as well as how quickly and effectively their foundations distribute the dollars they control. Two billionaires who received a score of 5 in 2018 have since passed away — Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen ($2.6 billion, 11 percent), who died last October, and industrialist and supporter of libertarian causes David H. Koch ($1.2 billion, 3 percent), who died in August.
Forty-one billionaires received higher scores from Forbes in 2019 than in 2018 — some because they increased their giving over the past year, others because more information about their lifetime giving became available. According to the latest tax filings, DreamWorks Pictures founder David Geffen transferred $38 million to his foundation in 2017, boosting his lifetime giving to about $1 billion and his philanthropy score from 4 to 5. Forbes' analysis found that forty-two of the wealthiest individuals had given at least $1 billion as of 2019, up from thirty-six as of 2018, while twenty-one had given at least 20 percent of their net worth, up from seventeen.
Forbes reports that it has received some pushback since it introduced the philanthropy score in 2018. "The new philanthropy ranking is fundamentally flawed," one Forbes 400 billionaire (who did not wish to be named) wrote to the magazine, "in that it is biased in favor of those who make their gifts widely known, and against donors who choose to make their charitable contributions anonymously."