6 Billionaire Philanthropists Who Are Investing Where It Really Counts

What sets these billionaire philanthropists apart is what they did after becoming wealthy.

Countless entrepreneurs and investors dream of amassing a great empire and the fortune that accompanies it. There are quotes about wealth offering advice about how to make money. There are just as many proverbs advising against putting too much faith in your fortunes. Yet, these billionaire philanthropists seem to have it figured out, and some.

When the elite achieve billionaire status, the real question become what to do with all that wealth. Many continue investing and building to pass on their earnings to loved ones. Of course, this is understandable and perfectly justifiable. Even among those who want to leave behind a healthy inheritance, though, many billionaires are paying it forward now. We’ve all heard of many of these brilliant minds, if for nothing else than their knack to make money. But beneath those skills is a desire in each one to leave the world a better place.

What does it take to join these billionaire philanthropists?

First things first, if you’re just a millionaire then you’ve still got some work to do. But once you add that ninth zero to your bank account, you must decide which causes deserve your money. That varies for each of the billionaire philanthropists on this list. But they all agree that they are not meant to hoard their fortunes. Before we start naming names, let’s define exactly what we’re talking about here.

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What is a philanthropist?

Most of us have heard the term applied to some generous person. But we’re talking about something a bit more than generosity. At the heart of philanthropy is a genuine love and concern for humanity. This often exhibits itself through large donations from wealthy benefactors. You can usually distinguish true philanthropy by its selfless nature. If you see someone give sacrificially and with no regard for recognition, you’ve probably found a philanthropist. Supporting worthwhile, humanitarian causes is another tell tale sign.

Giving is contagious:

As the number of billionaires continues to skyrocket in America and worldwide, so does the amount of giving. Incredibly, donors are expected to give $27 trillion to charitable causes of all types over the next 5 years. Some billionaires are putting that commitment in writing with the Giving Pledge. This was launched by billionaire philanthropists Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. It encourages others of similar means to put their money where their mouths are. 

Are billionaire philanthropists a walking contradiction?

Like anything, philanthropy is a sliding scale. There have been billionaire philanthropists who have given away nearly their entire fortunes before they died. Others are more selective and restrained with their giving. But at the end of the day, philanthropy is an attitude of the heart. None of us can truly see what motivates a person’s financial decisions. What is important and noteworthy is that billionaire philanthropists do exist. This successful sector of our community could rightfully work to grow their own empire. They choose instead to benefit others with empathetic gifts.

Which causes do billionaire philanthropists generally support?

Philanthropy at its core involves very personal decisions. Sometimes donors support causes close to their own lives. Whether it was a loved one touched by an affliction or a childhood experience, some wealthy folks try to make a difference. Others have simply noticed a need in the world and chose to do something. Charities working on behalf of poverty, HIV, and other global issues have benefited from such largess. We’ll explore what motivated each of the billionaire philanthropists below to part with their own money.

Generosity is perhaps the truest test of character.

It is a sad but true testament to humanity that selfishness is deeply ingrained within us. Call it a residual survival instinct, but history has proven that greed often begets more greed. We often want to hoard what we earn, even seeking to keep it in the family after we're gone. But a select few are leaving their fortunes to their larger family: humankind. And many are starting long before they leave their empires behind. Here are the billionaire philanthropists setting the example for the rest of us.

1. Jon Huntsman Sr.

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Though his net worth is reportedly just shy of the billion dollar mark, he’s a worthy exception. What makes Jon Huntsman Sr. so remarkable is that his lifetime donations total more than his net worth. He amassed a fortune of about $940 million as founder of Huntsman Corporation. He is the executive chairman of the chemical company, but his real mark is in the realm of giving. Huntsman died in February 2018 at the age of 80 with an incredible philanthropic record.

How much he's given and why:

Huntsman had given a whopping $1.2 billion, or about 128 percent of his reported estate, using his own battle with cancer as motivation. After overcoming the illness, he established the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute. Other gifts included multiple cancer research foundations and universities. Huntsman was among the philanthropists to sign the Giving Pledge.

2. George Kaiser

George Kaiser earned his estimated $9.3 billion as chairman of BOK Financial Corporation. He's since given back a sizable portion of that fortune through his own charitable organization. Kaiser has also signed the Giving Pledge, vowing to donate at least half of his net worth. So far, he is well on his way to achieving that goal.

How much he's given and why:

Through the George Kaiser Family Foundation, he has given to causes important to him. The charity supports health, education, as well as religious and social causes. Among the institutions his foundation benefits are several in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, area. He has given an estimated $3.3 billion to charity over his lifetime.

3. Gordon Moore

billionaire philanthropists, philanthropists, charity, philanthropy

Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Science History Institute

Many computer users owe Gordon Moore a debt of gratitude. He co-founded Intel, a venture that also made him very wealthy. Fifty years after that entrepreneurial move, he is now focused on giving back. With a net worth of about $6.5 billion, he has plenty of opportunity. He has already eclipsed the 50 percent mark designated in the Giving Pledge.

How much he's given and why:

Along with his wife, he founded the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in 2006. Since then, he's moved away from the corporate world in favor of giving. The foundation supports a wide range of causes important to the family. Among them are environmental, science, and health related issues. Moore has also financially supported many local organizations in the San Francisco area. He has given an estimated $5 billion in his life.

4. Eli Broad

billionaire philanthropists, philanthropists, charity, philanthropy

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Much of Eli Broad's trajectory into philanthropic giving mirrors Gordon Moore's story above. Both began charitable organizations with their wives. In his case, Broad established the Eli and Edyth Broad Foundation and also founded the Broad Art Foundation. He made his money in business as the cofounder of KB Home, and he served as the CEO of Sun America. And like Moore, he has already given away a substantial chunk of his net worth.

How much he's given and why:

With nearly half of his $7.3 billion net worth already redistributed, Eli Broad has supported many plights. The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation primarily focuses on entrepreneurship in the Los Angeles community. Broad's giving has also benefited the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles among others. His giving has also gone toward advancements in education and science.

5. Warren Buffett

billionaire philanthropists, philanthropists, charity, philanthropy

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It might not surprise you to see Warren Buffett's name on a list of billionaire philanthropists. As one of the creators of the Giving Pledge, he's also one of its most generous signers. He amassed a fortune of approximately $61 million and has since given away more than a third of it. That is still a far cry, however, from what he plans to do with his wealth.

How much he's given and why:

Warren Buffett has given away more than $21 billion of his net worth. The investor earned a fortune as chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. More than a decade ago, he pledged to make a real difference with his money. He promised to give 85 percent of his net worth to charity. So far, he has supported a wide array of humanitarian causes.

6. Bill Gates

billionaire philanthropists, philanthropists, charity, philanthropy

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No surprise here, we are ending the list with Bill Gates. At this point, it would be a challenge for any billionaire philanthropist to catch up. That won't stop plenty of his peers from trying. And that's exactly what he set out to do, a fact that is clear in his work on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Giving Pledge. Bill Gates has inspired other wealthy individuals to increase their giving. The foundation will be a primary recipient of Buffett's largess. The Microsoft co-founder has led by example and has already donated about one third of his $84.2 billion fortune.

How much he's given and why:

It's no secret that Bill Gates has given away a lot of his money. His foundation and charities it supports have made progress in a number of areas. With billions in donations, he has aided poverty relief, built libraries, provided health care, and more. The foundation supports the Rotary Foundation, GAVI Alliance, and World Health Organization, among others.

The wealthiest among us often set a cultural example -- for better or worse.

We hope you've enjoyed reading about a few of the good ones. These billionaire philanthropists show us how it's done. They eschew greed for the greater good. And that is inspiration we can all use in our daily lives, no matter how much we have.

Pass on this list to the advocates in your life who aspire to be billionaire philanthropists. And if you have a favorite cause or charity, let us know in the comments section below. 

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