Why hasn’t Jeff Bezos donated as much to charity as billionaires like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg?
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos may be the world’s richest person, but he isn’t well-known for his billion-dollar donations and philanthropic efforts the way Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are.
However, among the five richest people in America, Jeff Bezos – who has a net worth of more than US$117 billion – is the only one who has not signed on to the philanthropic commitment.
It’s not clear why Bezos has avoided joining the Giving Pledge, an initiative started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett almost a decade ago. His charitable history has “remained largely a mystery”, The New York Times wrote in 2017 after Bezos posted a “request for ideas” for philanthropy on Twitter.
A non-profit bearing Bezos’ last name, the Bezos Family Foundation, has given millions of dollars to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. However, the fund is run entirely by the Amazon CEO’s parents and has not received contributions from Bezos himself, according to Inside Philanthropy.
Additionally, Bezos had never appeared on the annual list of America’s 50 largest donors until 2018, when he took the top spot with the launch of a US$2 billion fund for education programmes for the homeless. That donation represented about 1.3 per cent of his net worth at the time, Quartz reported.
Here are all the major donations Bezos is known to have given to charity since becoming a billionaire in 1997:
August 2011: US$10 million to the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle
Bezos’ US$10 million grant was used to establish the museum’s Bezos Center for Innovation, which highlights companies that have got their starts in Seattle – including Microsoft, Costco, Boeing and UPS.
The innovation centre was officially unveiled in October 2013. The Museum of History and Industry is just a few blocks from Amazon’s headquarter near downtown Seattle.
December 2011: US$15 million to Princeton Neuroscience Institute
The US$15 million donation went toward creating a centre studying neurological disorders at Princeton Neuroscience Institute. The Bezos Center for Neural Circuit Dynamics opened in late 2013 on Princeton’s campus in New Jersey.
Jeff Bezos and his ex-wife, MacKenzie, are both graduates of Princeton University. Jeff Bezos studied electrical engineering and computer science, while MacKenzie Bezos majored in English.
July 2012: US$2.5 million to Washington United for Marriage, a same-sex-marriage advocacy group
Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, who were still married at the time, donated US$2.5 million to a group called Washington United for Marriage. The group was raising funds for a campaign for Referendum 74, a state referendum that would legalise same-sex marriage in Washington if approved.
The donation from the Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos doubled the organisation’s campaign fundraising, according to CNN Money. The referendum appeared on the ballot in November 2012 and was approved.
January 2013: US$500,000 to Worldreader, a non-profit that provides access to e-books and e-readers
Bezos pledged US$500,000 to Worldreader, a non-profit that supplies children in underdeveloped countries with access to digital books and e-readers. Bezos’ donation went toward boosting the organisation’s programmes in African countries, including Kenya, Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda.
May 2016: US$1 million pledge to match donations to Mary’s Place, a homeless non-profit in Seattle
In 2016, Bezos pledged to match up to US$1 million in donations given to Mary Place during Seattle’s annual GiveBig day of philanthropy. Mary’s Place, a non-profit that provides housing to Seattle’s homeless population, exceeded its US$1 million goal that year, bringing the organisation’s fundraising total to more than US$2 million.
Although this is the only donation Mary’s Place has received from Bezos personally, Amazon has turned part of its office space in Seattle into a homeless shelter (pictured above).
May 2017: US$1 million to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
The US$1 million gift was the largest personal contribution ever at the time to the non-profit, which advocates and provides resources for journalists and First Amendment rights. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press’ executive director called the donation “an institution-changing gift” for the non-profit.
Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, a historic newspaper he bought for US$250 million in August 2013.
January 2018: US$33 million to TheDream.us, a non-profit that funds college scholarships for immigrants
Bezos donated enough to fund the college education of 1,000 “Dreamers”, immigrants who were brought to the US as children. The US$33 million-donation came during a time when US President Donald Trump attempted to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – known as DACA – under which these children were protected from deportation and allowed to work legally in the US.
Bezos said the donation was a nod to his father, Miguel Bezos, who fled to the US from Cuba when he was 15. He later went on to attend college and work as an engineer at Exxon.
September 2018: US$10 million to With Honor, a PAC for electing military veterans
Bezos’ first major political donation was a US$10 million donation to With Honor, a bipartisan PAC that backs military veterans running for election to Congress.
September 2018: US$97.5 million to support educational programmes for homeless families through the launch of Bezos Day One Fund
The Bezos Day One Fund is named after the Amazon CEO’s long-standing “Day 1" way of thinking. Bezos has pledged US$2 billion, and said he plans to use the charity to support homeless families and launch education programmes in underserved communities.
The first round of donations, announced in November 2018, went toward organisations supporting homeless families across the US.
November 2019: US$98.5 million to fighting homelessness, the second round of funding from Bezos Day One Fund
In its second round of donations, the Bezos Day One Fund donated US$98.5 million to 32 organisations in 23 different states to “support their meaningful, high-impact work to provide shelter and support for young families in communities across the country”.
Bezos’ second round of donations was unique in that charities were not given specifications on how they can allocate and spend the money they were given.
February 2020: US$10 billion to fight climate change through the Bezos Earth Fund
Bezos announced the launch of the Bezos Earth Fund in February on Instagram. In the post, Bezos said the initiative would fund scientists, activists, and non-profit organisations – “any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world”.
The fund follows growing pressure from Amazon employees for the company to do more to combat climate change. Following the Earth Fund announcement, some critics called on Bezos to make changes to Amazon’s business – such as reducing the amount of packaging for Amazon deliveries – before focusing on world-changing projects.
This article originally appeared in Business Insider.
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The Amazon CEO is the world’s richest man, but despite giving millions to support gay marriage, immigrant rights and fighting homelessness, his philanthropy falls far short of most modern tech moguls