National Edition

What makes a top philanthropist?

Published: Friday, Nov. 29 2013 4:00 a.m. MST

Bill Gates and Melinda Gates attend the 68th session of the General Assembly on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, at United Nations headquarters. The Gates gave away more money to charity last year — $1.9 billion — than anyone else in the United States, according to a new list put out by Forbes of America's Top 50 Givers.

David Karp, Associated Press

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Bill and Melinda Gates gave away more money to charity last year — $1.9 billion — than anyone else in the United States, according to a new list put out by Forbes of America's Top 50 Givers.

Other top givers on the list included Warren Buffett, George Soros, Mark Zuckerberg and the Walton family. Coming in at No. 22 on the list were Jon Sr. and Karen Huntsman, who donated $76.8 million last year.

Forbes said its list measured "actual cash deployed in the field" in 2012. This contrasts with other lists that consider amounts pledged, such as the promises of those who participate in The Giving Pledge, whose goal is to get a group of "the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to commit to giving more than half of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes either during their lifetime or in their will."

Another recent list from Town and Country ignored total amounts given, and instead focused on 11 philanthropists who are "changing the world." The list highlighted the specific causes of certain philanthropists, like actor Leonardo DiCaprio's work on environmental causes like saving tigers in Nepal, and journalist Amanda Lindhout's charity work for Somalia, despite the fact that she was kidnapped by Somalians in 2008.

While the Forbes list was presented in order of total amount given in 2012, it also included information about the percentage of net worth the individual givers donated.

Looking at this metric, some users on the list may appear more or less generous. For example, the Walton family of Wal-Mart fortune gave $432 million, which amounts to .3 percent of their net worth. Duty-free shop mogul Chuck Feeney donated $313 million, a whopping 15,650 percent of his net worth (Forbes ran a piece last year about how Feeney is attempting to give away his wealth as quickly as possible). The Huntsman's donations equalling seven percent of their net worth was one of the higher percentages on the list.

By this metric, too, perhaps the poorer among us are the most philanthropic. Though they can't give billions like the titans highlighted by Forbes, the poor are more likely to give a higher percentage of their income to charity than the rich — 4.3 percent as opposed to 2.1 percent — reported the Deseret News' Michael De Groote last year.

"Everybody has enormous power to help another individual," Pamela Atkinson, a community advocate and a member of the Deseret News Editorial Board, told De Groote. "They don't have to be Bill Gates."

Buffett echoed this sentiment when he accepted a Forbes philanthropy award, according to the article accompanying the list.

"The truth is I have never given a penny away that had any utility to me," Buffett said. "I am very grateful for this award, I accept this award. But I’d like to accept it not only for myself but for those millions of people who really give away money that’s important to them because they see somebody else where they think they can do more good."

Email: dmerling@deseretnews.com

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