Philanthropy is based around the simple but relatable desire to share ones wealth with others. It’s something we all likely engage with on a day today basis. Whether you’ve given change to someone on the street, or offered your time to help out with a charitable cause, there’s a good chance you’ve tried—in your own way—to make the world a better place.
Of course, philanthropy isn’t just about who gives the most. More than just an overview of the country’s “top-philanthropists” (though you’ll see some familiar faces), this list aims to paint a diverse picture of the people who participate in American philanthropy.
Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett often tops these kinds of lists, and with good reason—when it comes to giving away money, Buffett has donated more than 20 Billion dollars in charitable contributions, and—most importantly—aims to give away 99% of his total wealth within his lifetime.
When Jimmy Carter’s family housed travelers during the Great Depression, the young Carter would converse with the people who stayed in his home—something that would forever impress upon the future president the importance of philanthropy. Beyond his great work with Habitat for Humanity, he’s helped improve lives in other countries, often in a hands-on way with The Carter Center.
The founder of Microsoft has done great charitable work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and while many lists would put the two together…
…it’s worth singling out Melinda Gates for being a powerhouse philanthropist in her own right, playing a major role in getting the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation off the ground in the first place before her husband fully shifted to philanthropic endeavors.
Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons reaches outside his massive musical legacy as the co-founder of the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, which has been connecting inner city youth with the arts since 1995.
As the top-trustee of the Leon Levy Foundation, Shelby White continues her late husband’s legacy of charity with contributions to the sciences and Jewish cultural institutions. Like Warren Buffett, she has offered to donate the majority of her wealth.
As the vice-chairman of the American India Foundation, Kashyap—and Indian immigrant and formerly a senior executive for Citibank—has helped bring American philanthropic efforts to India.
As the chair and CEO of Bloomberg Philanthropies, Patricia Harris has led the foundation to become one of the biggest givers in the world and has played a large role in elevating Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropic profile.
SungEun Han-Anderson is the president of the G. Chris Family Foundation, which helps fund educational and healthcare institutions. She also brings her history as a concert pianist to her great work on the board of the New York Philharmonic.
In addition to singlehandedly running the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, Oprah Winfrey has given her name and her money to almost too many charities to mention, like The Angel Network and the Clinton Foundation.
Ebay co-founder and chairman Omidyar has also joined Warren Buffet’s Giving Pledge to donate most of his fortune, and with the Omidyar Foundation, he and his wife Pamela have donated to a number of causes like human rights, food and energy, and technology.
You’ll maybe notice a running theme in the Giving Pledge, and Lynn Schusterman is no exception. The co-founder of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and a number of other philanthropic organizations plans on giving away most of her money.
This actor, known for his work on The Wire and Treme, came to New Orleans to rebuild his childhood home after Hurricane Katrina. In the process, he has helped rebuild the surrounding community by co-founding the Pontchartrain Park Community Development Corporation and creating Sterling Fresh Foods to bring grocery stores to low-income areas of New Orleans.
You don’t get the nickname “the James Bond of philanthropy” for nothing. Chuck Feeney takes things a step further than acolytes like Warren Buffett—he wants to give away all of his fortune, supporting education, healthcare, sciences and civil rights causes in the process.
In addition to doing great work with Russell Simmons’ Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, Alicia Keys has done amazing work as the ambassador for Keep A Child Alive, which helps get treatment to children and families in Africa with HIV/AIDS.