Amazon wealth reigns: Jeff Bezos, MacKenzie Scott lead list of top U.S. philanthropists for 2020

Jeff Bezos, MacKenzie Scott
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was the top American philanthropist in 2020, giving away $10.1 billion to non-profit efforts associated with climate change and education, according to a ranking released this week by The Chronicle of Philanthropy. MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Bezos, ranked second on the list with donations to a wide array of non-profits that totaled $5.7 billion.

In fact, the Amazon wealth generated by Bezos and Scott accounted for more than half of the big donor money tracked as part of The Philanthropy 50 list. In total, the magazine tracked $24.7 billion donated by the top 50 donors. That compares to $15.8 billion donated in 2019.

Media mogul Michael Bloomberg, Nike founder Phil Knight and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey rounded out the top five — each donating more than $1 billion last year.

Bill and Melinda Gates, who’ve set the bar for philanthropy in the modern era, ranked 13th with estimated giving of $157 million.

The Bezos ranking comes a week after announcing plans to step down as CEO of Amazon in the third quarter. In his message to employees, Bezos specifically pointed to his philanthropic efforts — including the Day 1 Fund and Bezos Earth Fund — that would garner more of his attention after handing over day-to-day dutiesto AWS CEO Andy Jassy.

“I’ve never had more energy, and this isn’t about retiring,” he wrote.”I’m super passionate about the impact I think these organizations can have.”

In his message, Bezos also cited his ownership of The Washington Post and Blue Origin, his privately-held space company.

Bezos and Amazon have long faced criticismfor not participating in philanthropy to the level some may expect of one of the world’s richest men, and most powerful companies. But many held out hope that Bezos would eventually redirect his energies to helping those in need.

Ed Lazowska, a professor in the University of Washington’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, told GeekWire in 2018 that  “Jeff has changed the world once. In the fullness of time, he will change the world again multiple times.”

In a column this week in The New York Times titled “How Will Jeff Bezos Spend His Billions Now?” University of Washington historian Margaret O’Mara echoes Lazowska’s comments from three years ago, noting that Bezos’ next act “could be more consequential than the last.”

Bezos is currently the richest person on the planet, with a net worth that stands at a staggering $192 billion, according to Forbes.

Meanwhile, MacKenzie Scott has emerged as a powerful force in philanthropy, almost overnight. Calling the pandemic a “wrecking ball in the lives of Americans,” Scott pledged $4 billion in one sitting last December to 384 organizations, including food banks, community colleges and emergency relief funds.

“Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color, and for people living in poverty,” Scott wrote. “Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.”

Scott’s net worth is estimated at $58 billion. Here’s what the Journal of Philanthropy had to say about Scott’s entry into the world of big-time giving.

Scott made waves in the staid world of philanthropy when she gave seven- and eight-figure gifts to 512 nonprofits throughout the country that rarely if ever see donations of that size. She left it up to the nonprofits’ leaders to decide how to use the money.

You can see the full list of top donors — 16 of which draw their money from the technology industry — here. Also, check out this detailed analysis by Recode, which points out the challenges in tracking philanthropic dollars.

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