As the United States economy unraveled amid the COVID-19 pandemic — creating record unemployment, eviction crises, and miles-long food bank lines — American billionaires increased their wealth by at least $637 billion, Business Insider reported in August.
At the same time, the federal government has been unable to deliver another relief package to help Americans weather the crisis.
This split-screen development of growing poverty on one side and unprecedented wealth capture on the other forms the backdrop of the new and enhanced Forbes 400 philanthropy score, formed in partnership with Global Citizen.
This year’s Forbes 400 list assesses how much money the 400 wealthiest billionaires in the US have given to charities and nonprofits, as opposed to money pledged sometime in the future or stowed away in a foundation or donor-advised fund.
The new methodology was inspired by Global Citizen’s Give While You Live campaign, launched in January to encourage the world’s more than 2,000 billionaires to donate 5% of their wealth annually to end poverty and uplift communities globally.
“Global Citizen is proud to partner with Forbes on this historic initiative, which launches at a time when the role of philanthropy has never been more important in tackling the many challenges in the fight against poverty and inequality,” said Hugh Evans, co-founder and CEO of Global Citizen. “The new Forbes index will help people understand the actual giving of billionaires, not just how much they pledge. This transparency will hopefully spur those who have been blessed with enormous wealth to use it for good and with greater urgency.”
The focus on “money out the door,” as opposed to money accruing interests in funds waiting to be deployed, is a crucial distinction while there are urgent humanitarian causes that need funding here and now.
The methodology for the index is straightforward. Global Citizen worked with the team at Forbes to gather data on the wealthiest individuals in the US as part of its annual review, cross-checked publicly available records on charitable giving — or money out the door to beneficiaries. To verify the findings, Forbes reached out to the accounting teams of each billionaire, and assigned a score between 1 and 5 to each individual based on direct donations to charitable organizations.
Those who gave more than 20% of their income to charities and nonprofits received a philanthropy score of 5, while those who gave less than 1% of their wealth received a 1.
In the new edition of the index, just 10 individuals received a score of 5, compared to 29 who received the top score in 2019, while 127 received a score of 1, compared to 76 the year before. Even as billionaires added an additional $240 billion to their wealth over the past year, they've become less generous overall.
The most generous billionaires include investor Warren Buffett, financier George Soros, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, entrepreneur Eli Broad, philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, hedge fund manager Julian Roberston Jr., media mogul Ted Turner, businessman George Kaiser, businessman Amos Hostetter Jr., and hedge fund manager John Arnold.
Bill Gates received a score of 4 in the index, meaning he gave between 10% and 19.99% of his wealth to charity. Other notable individuals who received a 4 include Napster co-founder Sean Parker, financier and former New York governor Michael Bloomberg, and the businessman Barry Diller.
Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook, along with Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries, received a score of 2.
The lowest bracket included some of the wealthiest people in the world.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who has a net wealth of roughly $204 billion — greater than the gross domestic product of more than 100 countries — received a 1, along with the founders of other technology companies such as Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google, and Larry Ellison of Oracle. US President Donald Trump also received a 1, along with the media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
The Give While You Live campaign aims to shed light on the fact that while some of the world’s wealthiest are giving big and giving now, most aren’t. By giving just a fraction of their wealth to organizations such as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), these individuals could ensure basic human rights for all people.
The Give While You Live campaign was launched earlier this year as the global humanitarian community set its sights on the UN’s Global Goals target of ending poverty by 2030. At the time, meeting that goal would have required an additional $350 billion in annual funding — with a sizable chunk coming from philanthropists.
Eight months later the world is a very different place, a shift that has given the Give While You Live campaign a whole new meaning.
By focusing on billionaires’ actual charitable giving, the enhanced philanthropy score of the Forbes 400 index aims to accelerate the much-needed momentum around charitable giving, especially as the US grapples with numerous crises — the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing racial injustice, the climate crisis, and more.
On a global scale, the arrival of the pandemic has caused setbacks throughout the United Nations’ Global Goals. As humanitarian funding gets diverted to COVID-19, areas such as education, food production, women’s rights, and more are receiving less financing. As a result, nontraditional actors have to increasingly fill the funding gaps to ensure the world achieves the Global Goals by 2030.
“With hundreds of billions of dollars in Forbes 400 members’ private charitable foundations, we can verify just a fraction of that sum is actually deployed annually to causes and communities in need,” said Forbes’ Chief Content Officer Randall Lane. “Since we first established the philanthropy rankings in 2018, our goal has always been to spotlight those who are giving big and giving now and ideally using those funds investing in a better future for everyone.”