7 Charities Funded By Famous Billionaires

By: Marcus Varner | December 21, 2015 (Edited July 7, 2017)

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It used to be that billionaires reserved charitable giving for their pocket change. But not anymore.

A few years ago, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg, after being urged by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and super-investor Warren Buffett, pledged to give a large portion of his wealth to charitable causes. Then earlier this month, Zuckerburg-who, to his credit, had already donated hundreds of millions to causes-and his wife announced that they would be giving away 99% of their Facebook shares, which are currently worth about $45 billion.

And Zuckerburg's not the only celebrity billionaire to have taken and fulfilled this oath (dubbed "The Giving Pledge" by Gates and Buffett).

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Dozens of billionaires from around the world, under the influence of Buffett and Gates, have taken the pledge and begun to act upon it, most of them leaving only a "pitiful" $10 million to each of their heirs. The list includes well-known names like Star Wars creator George Lucas, David Rockefeller, Elon Musk, CNN founder Ted Turner, and former NYC mayor and presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, charities are hoping to catch the eye of these mega-donors, a donation from whom could fund their operations for pretty much, well, ever. And then in the last few years that the pledge has been in existence, a few fortunate charity have already begun to benefit from this massive infusion of cash into the nonprofit space. Here are just seven of those lucky charities:

1. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights

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If you take a look at the guest list at events for this nonprofit-which is dedicated to "advancing the human rights movement through providing innovative support to courageous human rights defenders around the world"-you might think you're looking at the guest list for the Oscars. Names like Aretha Franklin, Ben Stiller, Bill O'Reilly, and someone named "The Dalai Lama" grace their list of donors, but one name stands above them all in terms of money donated.

When he hasn't been busy planning a mission to Mars or giving the world a hyper-loop train, "Giving Pledge"-taker and PayPal founder Elon Musk has donated several millions of dollars to the Center to forward their efforts.

2. United Nations Foundation

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Many in this new crop of philanthropic billionaires aren't content to just give money to their favorite charities. Instead, to make sure that their dollars are used how they think best, many takers of the Giving Pledge, including Bill Gates and Zuckerburg, just set up their own charities and then donate their money to those charities.

Such is the case with CNN founder and media mogul Ted Turner, who so believed in the mission of the United Nations that he set up the United Nations Foundation in 1998 to help the UN meet its global health, humanitarian, economic, and environmental objectives. To kickstart this charity, Turner forked out an astounding $1 billion.

3. Rotary International

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"What would it take to change the world?" asks Rotary International, a worldwide service group that boasts 1.2 million members in 34,000 clubs, all dedicated to volunteering to provide clean water, food, health services, education, and job training to the underprivileged. Their efforts are supported by a host of celebrities.

Ted Turner donates to Rotary, but so do other notables people like Bill Gates, martial arts star Jackie Chan, K-pop phenomenon Psy, and South African activist Desmond Tutu. I'll give you two guesses on who donates the most out of that list.

4. Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research

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Parkinson's sufferer and our favorite Back to the Future star Michael J. Fox decided to fight back against his disease by setting up a charity which seeks to promote and accelerate research for the disease's cure. Fox's presence alone has been enough to draw donations to the charity, but one donation was particularly conspicuous.

In 2013, Giving Pledge members Sergey Brin, co-founder of a little startup called Google, and his wife donated a massive $33 million to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

5. Silicon Valley Community Foundation

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Few nonprofits are as well-funded as this one, and this is most likely due to its neighbors. This organization was formed out of two Bay Area nonprofits in 2006 to promote immigrant integration, economic security, area planning, and education in the area. With the success of Silicon Valley-area companies, however, this regionally limited organization has found itself rolling in the dough.

In 2012, Zuckerburg and his wife bequeathed 18 million Facebook shares to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation-a donation worth about $500 million at the time.

The following year, the Zuckerburg-Chan family did it again with another 18 million-share donation, then worth $990 million. 2013 also saw a $500 million donation from the founders of GoPro and a $556 million donation from the founder of WhatsApp.

Since then, this nonprofit has become the go-to charity for Silicon Valley billionaires. Most recently, when Zuckerburg wanted to pay for the San Jose Unified School District to provide better after-school programs for underprivileged students, he did it through the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

6. Edutopia

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Remember what I said earlier about billionaires just setting up their own charities, instead of entrusting their money to other people? Well, here's another one. George Lucas-a.k.a. "The Richest Man in Hollywood" and the father of Star Wars and modern special effects-wanted to improve innovation in schools.

To do this, he created Edutopia - The George Lucas Education Foundation and injected it with $4 billion in cash. And this was in 1991, way before he even took the Giving Pledge. Since then Lucas has continued his giving with his own low income housing development project and donations to the Jackie Robinson Foundation, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and many other charities.

7. Museum of Modern Art

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For decades now, the Rockefellers have been the quintessential philanthropic billionaires, maintaining ridiculously large fortunes and then sharing that wealth with the community. This fact makes New York's Museum of Modern Art only one of the many nonprofits that enjoy the Rockefellers' support.

On his ninetieth birthday in 2005, David Rockefeller pledged to donate $5 million a year to the iconic museum and then $100 million at his death. While he was on a roll, Rockefeller pledged $100 million to Rockefeller University (naturally), $100 million to Harvard University, $25 million to the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, and then $225 million to his own Rockefeller Brothers Fund, bringing the grand total on money to bequeathed at his death to a whopping $575 million.

Fad or For Real?

For those observing this recent outburst of "competitive philanthropy," the real question is, is this all just a fad, just something billionaires are doing right now under peer pressure? Or does it signal a real shift in the attitudes of the rich? Is this trend sustainable? Observers are also wondering how the desire for these billionaires to not only give, but control, their donations will affect how charities fundraise in the future. Only time will tell.

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Written by Marcus Varner

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