Dec. 13, 2022

61. Donations of the Rich and Famous

This week’s episode is a little stroll through donations of the rich and famous.


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Welcome to Spend Donate Invest. I’m your host, I go by GG that’s short for Genet Gimja, and I’m here to talk money with you. But wait, before you press skip, this podcast isn’t about how to make more money, it’s about how to feel more aligned with your money. Or a better way to put it is, to better align your money with your personal values. The type of world you’d like to see. The type of world you’d like to help create. And you know, saying that out loud sounds a little lofty to me. Because this show isn’t built on a fantasy that our individual actions are enough to change the intentionally oppressive systems we are operating within. This show is built on the belief that our individual actions can push for incremental change, and that it is worth doing what is within our control.

So that’s why you’ll hear about topics like how to green your investment portfolio a little more. How to push your employer to offer socially responsible 401k plans. How to shop a little more sustainably. How to be a little more intentional in our own charitable giving.

The last several episodes have covered a lot of topics within charitable giving and I thought it might be fun to do a light episode this week about celebrity giving. I thought it might be fun to look at the rich and famous and where they tend to donate, as much as we can find out from easily accessible public information, of course. So if there are celebrities you’re curious about, send me a note anytime at spend donate invest at gmail dot com.

I started my research by going back a bit. Only 10 years, to 2012 and the first thing that struck me was just how different the celebrities are- what I mean to say is that 10 years ago most of the celebrity giving in the news came from donations given by actors and musicians, writers, athletes. And one of the biggest differences I saw now was that a lot of celebrity giving is now coming from the tech industry. And that really struck me.

When I think about someone like Nicki Minaj who apparently has been quietly donating to a village somewhere in India to provide water, sewing machines, and computers etc it hits a little different from reading about a tech founder’s philanthropy. And that’s because I don’t think of Nicki as having directly caused a lot of the problems she is donating towards.

When I think about some of the tech founders who are now giving away tons of money, it strikes me that these founders have caused or exacerbated many of the problems their donations are supposedly meant to help alleviate. These tech billionaires spend a staggering amount of money lobbying the government to weaken parts of the government and sway other parts of the government to make the world fit their needs, not ours. And then they avoid paying taxes by donating their money. Often they donate towards problems that not paying their taxes has made worse. I mean it just boggles the mind.

To me that’s the biggest difference I saw when I was researching celebrity giving for this episode. A lot of the pieces I saw written about celebrity giving was from people who are literally shaping the society we are living in. People with a ton of political influence. Way too much political influence. So end of rant for today, let’s just talk about our favorite celebs and where they are reported to donate.

Obviously, we have to start with you get a car you get a car, Oprah Winfrey!
Everyone knows about Oprah Winfrey’s school in South Africa. She has also given towards food insecurity and health care.

I wasn’t previously aware of the donations the Obamas made while they were in the White House. The biggest donation that I read about was to a summer jobs program in Chicago as well as donations to the Fisher House Foundation which supports families of veterans.

I did see that Amal Clooney, the human rights attorney, the actor George Clooney is her husband, they have donated like half a million to the March for Our Lives campaign. We talked about them back in episode 44 which was on the topic of whether there is any way our money, as individuals, can align with our values to decrease gun violence.

Apparently George Michael was secretly giving millions of dollars a year to a counseling service for children. They blew the lid on that secret when he passed a few years ago. Rest in peace to him.

Let’s see…who else are some fun celebrities that I read about.

Oh I read that Alyssa Milano just celebrated her 20th year as a UNICEF Ambassador.

Beyonce is rumored to give secretly as I’m sure many celebrities do, but publicly I read about some of her donations to Nelson Mandela’s foundation which is called 46664 because that was his prisoner number on Robben Island. She’s donated towards issues like HIV/AIDS, clean water in developing countries, and one thing that stood out in her donations is a lot of different art foundations for all kinds of artists especially musicians.

There isn’t much publicly available about where Rihanna tends to donate, I was interested to see a pretty tiny charity on her list which is called the Believe Foundation. They provide financial help to families who are grieving the loss of a child.

Jennifer Lopez has a foundation focused on healthcare for women and girls.

The Mark Wahlberg Foundation focuses on inner city youth programs.

Bette Midler’s Foundation was probably the most specific. It is called the New York Restoration Project and their focus is to conserve green spaces and gardens in NYC.

So those are the fun and random celebrity donors that I was able to read about but if you’re interested to know who the top donors are in the US by dollar amount, the list is probably not that surprising.

Number 1 is Warren Buffett, his network is like a hundred billion dollars and he has given away maybe 50 billion of that. It seems like the place he tends to donate to the most is the Gates Foundation.

And then Number 2 on the list is Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates. They have donated a very small fraction of their insane amount of wealth.

George Soros comes in at Number 3. All philanthropy is political but I would have to say that George Soros is probably the one people think about when they think about politically minded philanthropy. Him and the Koch (“Coke”) brothers.

And then next on the list is Number 4 and this surprised me but it is Michael Bloomberg. His primary focus has been on climate change and health and that has included things like a large pledge to his alma mater Johns Hopkins University.

MacKenzie Scott comes in at Number 5. There has been a bit of back and forth about critics asking her for more transparency about where she is donating because she seems to be donating at a faster clip than most philanthropists generally do. She says she will be releasing a searchable website with info about the gifts she has given. I will definitely be interested in reading that.

And then there are a few other billionaires on the list and eventually you get to Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. They are right after Phil Knight and his family, that’s the cofounder of Nike. And then you have to scroll quite a bit before you get down to Jeff Bezos. His donations are really low, about 1.1% of his net worth, and even that money it seems like he is really clutching with a firm grip. For example, after he took that space ship to space but not really, he announced a $200 million dollar gift to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum but even that tiny amount of money, he is doling out over like 4 years. $200 million for him is the change caught up in the lint of his coat pocket. So I don’t know why I was surprised at how little he donates because honestly it lines up, but still, I was surprised, so I thought I would share that.

One thing I have been wondering about are the celebrities who encourage everyday people like you and I to donate to causes they’re excited about. How do you feel about that? Is there a certain wealth level after which you feel like the celebrity just shouldn’t ask us to donate and should shell out the money themselves? And how would you feel if your favorite celebrity was asking you to donate to a charity and then you found out they themselves didn’t actually donate to that charity? Share your thoughts via email or twitter.

And send in your questions or topics for future episodes. Email is spend donate invest at gmail dot com. Twitter is spend donate vest because spend donate invest doesn’t fit, so again that is spend donate vest.

And that wraps up this week’s episode. A little stroll through donations of the rich and famous. I’m working on researching a few other episodes so I hope to get those out to you ASAP. In the meantime, take care and we’ll talk again soon!