8 Rich People Who Gave Their Money Away

Spending billions in a single lifetime takes more than purchasing a private yacht and a few mansions. These eight entrepreneurs have chosen to make the most of their fortunes by giving back to society in a big way. Many of the listed billionaires have signed the “Giving Pledge,” promising to donate more than half of their wealth during their lifetimes.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Founder

The Facebook founder and his wife Priscilla Chan made headlines recently with a pledge to give away 99% of their Facebook shares over their lifetimes. The announcement of the “Chan Zuckerberg Initiative” focused on promoting health and education followed the birth of their daughter Max. Zuckerberg’s massive fortune is an estimated $46 billion.

This isn’t the coding prodigy’s first foray into philanthropy. The couple had previously donated over $1 billion dollars. In addition to large donations to Newark Public Schools and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Zuckerberg runs the Internet.org project, dedicated to bringing affordable Internet access to the estimated five billion people who are still unconnected. His giving also supports hospitals and research on curing major diseases. Zuckerberg recently dipped his toes into a new area, funding an institute to support U.S. immigration reform – likely to help Facebook draw global talent to its U.S. headquarters.

Despite Zuckerberg’s seeming generosity, his announcement of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative drew cries of tax avoidance from many critics. The media will be watching closely to see how these funds are spent over the coming decades.

Bill Gates, Microsoft Co-Founder

The richest man in the world, Gates is worth an estimated $79.5 billion. Gates has donated billions to charity. In 2000, the Microsoft founder and his wife launched the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Foundation focuses on global health and development work while keeping some funds in the U.S. The Foundation recently ran a “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” to draw attention to problems in sanitation around the globe. Gates went so far as to drink reclaimed water – purified from sewage – to raise awareness for water treatment technology.


Gates is a practicing Catholic who believes he has a duty to use his fortune to help reduce the world’s inequity and counts the philanthropic greats Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller among his influences. Gates and his wife plan to eventually donate 95% of their wealth to charity.

John D. Rockefeller, Founder of the Standard Oil Company

One from the textbooks – Rockefeller held a monopoly over U.S. oil in the late 1800’s. He was once the world’s richest man and the first American to hit the billion-dollar mark. After amassing his fortune, Rockefeller dedicated himself to philanthropy. Over his lifetime, he established four foundations. The first, the Rockefeller Foundation, supported education and public health, founding universities and helping eradicate many scourges of the early 20th century.

The straightedge billionaire never drank or smoked and often supported faith-based institutions. Rockefeller started donating cash in his teens, donating more than 10% of his annual income by the age of twenty. As his net worth skyrocketed, his giving kept pace. By the late 19th century, the son-in-law of slavery abolitionists built a college for African-American women in the heart of the south. Rockefeller’s scientific funding has supported the work of at least 23 Nobel Laureates.

Unknown / Public Domain

Unknown / Public Domain

Rockefeller and his contemporary Andrew Carnegie set the rules of the philanthropy game. Today’s billionaire donors – including Gates, Zuckerberg, and Warren Buffett – count Rockefeller among their inspirations.

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