Thursday, November 25, 2004

The Top Givers

BusinessWeek Nov. 29, 2004
My youngest tonight received a Joey & Toby Tanenbaum award at the University of Ryerson for Business Management. Over the years the Tanenbaums have given over Cdn$200 million to various causes. On the subway ride to work this morning, I was reading this week's cover article from BusinessWeek magazine: The Top Givers. It's the magazine annual report card on the top philanthropists in the US. The richest country in the world produces more philanthropists than Canada, and probably elsewhere in the world -- the magazine proudly proclaims that their top 50 donors [PDF] have given away US$65 billion in their lifetime. A noble achievement indeed, and something to be proud of. The Gates' top the list, having given away more than have their net worth thus far -- an amazing sum of US$27,976 million. No one comes close to Bill and Melinda Gates in giving. Last year alone, they gave US$3 billion to their foundation. The sentiments of Alfred Mann probably echoes those of the top philanthropists: "Money is only worth what you can do with it. Other than that, it's not worth a damn." For these philanthropists, solving today's problems is of more value than bequeathing their riches. Jansen and Katz of McKinsey have found that this is sound reasoning as well, as the present value of future donations drop dramatically.

As much as they give though, these top donors are in the minority. On average, the 1% richest people in the US have two-fifths of the country's wealth, but donate just 2% of their annual incomes each year. Those on the bottom of the income ladder however, give 6% of theirs. 20% of the richest estates leave absolutely nothing to charity. The wealth stays locked up and doesn't flow back into the economy. The article is quite an eye-opener. You may be surprised by who you find on the top 50 list and how they're donating their money. The sidebar article on the lower income givers is also a good read. There are a lot of good people in the world, along with the misers.

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