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Top 50 U.S. Donors Contributed Nearly $25 Billion in 2020 

The top 50 U.S. donors gave away $24.7 billion in 2020. That’s the key finding of an annual study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. This figure represents a significant increase over 2019’s count, totaling $16 billion.

The 2020 Philanthropy 50 shows that while foundations, higher education institutions, and donor-advised funds raked in the most cash, charities tackling hunger, homelessness, and poverty received over $700 million—the largest share in the ranking’s 21-year history. The top donors also made hefty contributions to pandemic relief funds, food banks, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), racial justice causes, and environmental organizations.

Donors who contributed more than $1 billion include Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and former wife MacKenzie Scott (who gave $10.2 billion and $5.7 billion, respectively), Michael Bloomberg (donating $1.6 billion), Nike Co-Founder Philip Knight and wife Penelope Knight ($1.4 billion), and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey ($1 billion).

Social justice causes dominated donor trends last year amid nationwide protests surrounding police brutality and racial injustice. Retired basketball star Michael Jordan gave $50 million to racial and social justice groups, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Convicted People and Families Movement, and Black Voters Matter. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and wife Patty Quillan contributed $120 million to HBCUs and scholarship funds, including Morehouse College, Spelman College, and the UNCF. MacKenzie Scott alone gave $50 million to HBCUs such as North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Prairie View A&M University, and Morgan State University.

According to his public donations spreadsheet, Dorsey also donated hefty sums to social justice organizations, including $10 million to Boston University’s Antiracism Center, $7.6 million to FUSE Corps, $2.4 million to FREEAMERICA, and $2.2 million to Campaign Zero.

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Experts say social justice giving is a relatively novel trend among donors. Elizabeth Dale, an assistant professor of nonprofit leadership at Seattle University, told The Conversation that historically, high-wealth donors typically haven’t supported racial justice and community development causes. Instead, they have been “more inclined to fund higher education and health care, largely with big donations to elite universities, hospitals, and arts institutions like museums and operas,” Dale added.

Pandemic relief was another key trend last year, serving COVID-19 frontline response efforts, small business funds, vaccine development, and health care causes.

For instance, Bill and Melinda Gates pledged $1.6 billion to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance through their eponymous foundation. Bezos donated $100 million to Feeding America’s COVID-19 Response Fund and $50 million in matching funds to All In Washington. Dorsey gave two gifts of $18 million and $20 million to Resolve To Save Lives, two donations of $10 million and $20 million to the Community Organized Relief Effort, and $15 million to Give2SF.

Only one donor was listed in the religion category. Real estate investor and Kodak board member George Karfunkel and his wife, Renee, donated $66.4 million in Kodak shares to Congregation Chemdas Yisroel, a nonprofit Jewish synagogue that Karfunkel started in 2018.

In July, the couple donated 3 million of their 6.3 million Kodak shares, totaling $116 million. The transaction raised questions as just a few days earlier, Kodak’s stock prices soared by nearly 900 percent on news that the company had received a $765 million Defense Production Act loan to produce ingredients for COVID-19 treatments. However, in January 2021, Karfunkel reduced his donation to 2 million shares, valued at $66.4 million.

Shannon Cuthrell

Shannon Cuthrell is a journalist with a background covering business, technology and economic development. She has written for Business North Carolina magazine, WRAL TechWire, Charlotte Inno and EE Power, among other publications.