In a recent report, the Chronicle of Philanthropy analyzed publicly announced donations given by wealthy individuals in 2016.
The 10 largest of these all surpassed $200 million apiece:
Two of the three most generous donations came from Nike co-founder Phil Knight — both bequeathed to higher education institutions. His $500 million gift to Oregon University, to be used to create a scientific research center, marks the largest single donation to a public university in American history. An additional $400 million donation to Stanford University will be used to establish a scholars program for global leadership.
Investor Nicolas Berggruen’s $400 million donation will be used to create his own public policy think tank, the Berggruen Institute.
Calculating these donations as a percentage of the donor’s net worth, though, the most generous gesture was a $400 million gift from Howard and Lottie Marcus. Their gift represented their entire life savings.
The since-deceased elderly couple, who had fled Nazi Germany and invested with Warren Buffett in the 1960s, gave the funds to Israel’s Ben-Gurion University for water research. “The single biggest gift before this was $20 million,” a university official told Jewish Week.
Also among the biggest single donations of 2016 was a pair of $300 million-plus gifts from Michael Bloomberg, benefiting anti-tobacco research and the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Hedge fund manager Steven Cohen gave $275 million to start the Cohen Veterans Network (a mental health institute for former military service members), Facebook co-founder Sean Parker threw down $250 million to start the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, and Oracle founder Larry Ellison pledged $200 million to the University of Southern California to establish a medical clinic bearing his name.
These donations — collectively totaling more than $3 billion — benefited a wide array of causes:
Here are a few other massive donations from individuals in 2016 that narrowly missed this list (full breakdown at Forbes):
- Sanford Weill (Citigroup chair emeritus): $185 million to the University of California San Francisco, for neuroscience research
- Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO): $107.2 million to Fidelity Charitable
- Paul Allen (Microsoft co-founder): $100 million to the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group
- David Geffen (DreamWorks co-founder): $100 million to New York’s Museum of Modern Art for renovations and expansion
- Reed Hastings (Netflix founder): $100 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation
It is possible there were other non-public, or anonymous, donations that exceeded $100 million. But this report gives us an idea of what institutions America’s wealthiest benefactors are supporting.
Explore more of 2016’s top donations in the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s full report.