Why Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg Weren’t As Charitable in 2018

A new report published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy shows that America’s billionaires weren’t feeling quite as generous in 2018 as they were in 2017. Statistics reveal that last year, the country’s 50 most charitable billionaire’s only donated half of what they did in 2017. Nonprofit expert Lynn Raynault explains why.

“I think it’s less about giving less in 2018 (because 2018 was still well above other years), and more about the fact that 2017 was an anomaly year,” Raynault speculated.

But there’s another key factor to keep in mind: All it takes is one or two donors to tip the scale in either direction. Consider the fact that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, for example, were responsible for half of the money donated by the top 50 billionaires in 2017.

“The impact that these mega-donors can have year over year is just tremendous,” Raynault explained.

And yet, Bill and his wife Melinda only gave $150 million to charity in 2018 compared to $4.8 billion in 2017. The reason, Raynault theorizes, is because billionaires often focus on a specific cause, and related opportunities can vary from year to year.

“Nearly two-thirds of billionaires are self-made, thus they tend to base their philanthropy on issues relevant to their own principles of success,” Raynault articulated. “For example, in 2018, there were a number of tech billionaires supporting efforts around artificial intelligence and its use in accelerating efforts such as ending hunger, aiding global health care issues, or education.”

As for Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, their noticeable decline in charitable giving can be explained by the political scandals that rocked Facebook last year. According to Fox Business, Zuckerberg’s net worth took a big hit last year. As a result, the couple only donated $200 million in 2018 compared to $2 billion in 2017.

“That’s still a relatively hefty sum and is actually in line with what they’ve given in prior years,” Raynault maintained.

*Photo credit: Oleg Golovnev / Shutterstock

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The Billionaires to Donations Ratio in China is Skewed

The number of billionaires in the People’s Republic of China has increased significantly in the last decade or so, but their charitable giving has not kept pace. In 2015, China saw a rise in the billionaire population of 38%, with a net worth of $830 billion, meaning that country has the second largest number of billionaires after the United States. But the United States far outpaces China in charitable giving.

There are a number of reasons for this, but one of the most significant is a lack of transparency on the part of charitable organizations. In recent years, there have been a number of scandals involving charities in China, especially as pertains to the use of funds, which has made many people cautious. The government has stepped in to address the situation, but as is common in China, that has largely been to restrict who can claim charity status, and what they can focus their mission on. The result is that many charities are now beholden to the government.

Some billionaires, a class that has only recently come into being in the nominally communist country, are reasonably cautious about how the government perceives them, and so they must choose their donations very carefully. But there also aren’t many tax incentives for donating in China. Here in the United States, although many people donate out of the kindness of their hearts, there are a number of tax benefits that companies can claim by donating to charity, and they make sure to do that. Regardless of why a person, or a company, donates to charity, the end result is still a donation.

While the number of charitable organizations in China has increased in the last few years, up to 4,211 as of 2015, giving to those organizations is still slow. The Chinese government does seem to be interested in finding ways to get people to support select charitable causes though, so this may change over the next few years.