Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates’s $15 Billion Pledge Tops the List for 2021
It was a healthy year for big gifts in 2021, a year that saw one of the biggest multibillion gifts in more than a decade, according to a Chronicle tally.
The power philanthropists Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates announced in May that they were divorcing and then gave a jaw-dropping $15 billion to their foundation in July. The money will bolster its endowment and support the grant maker’s work in global health, development, policy and advocacy, and U.S. education well into the future.
The gift increased the foundation’s endowment to about $65 billion and is the Gates’s biggest infusion of money into the foundation since 2000 when they transferred Microsoft stock then valued at $20 million.
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It was a healthy year for big gifts in 2021, a year that saw one of the largest multibillion-dollar pledges in more than a decade, according to a Chronicle tally.
The power philanthropists Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates announced in May that they were divorcing and then pledged a jaw-dropping $15 billion to their foundation in July. The money will bolster its endowment and support the grant maker’s work in global health, development, policy and advocacy, and U.S. education well into the future.
The pledge, which will be paid to the foundation over the course of multiple years, is the Gateses’ biggest infusion of money into the foundation since 2000, when they transferred Microsoft stock then valued at $20 billion.
When they announced this year’s pledge, the two philanthropists indicated they planned to continue running the foundation together for the time being but announced through the foundation that if after two years either one of them decides not to work together, then French Gates will resign as co-chair and trustee.
Regardless, the philanthropists made clear in two new Giving Pledge letters that they both intend to keep giving big in the years ahead.
French Gates wrote that she will continue to support efforts to fight poverty and “advance equality for women and girls and other marginalized groups.” Gates wrote in his Giving Pledge letter that the work of the foundation will continue to be his “top philanthropic priority” and that he plans to increase his giving in other areas like “mitigating climate change and tackling Alzheimer’s.”
Nonprofits that focus on those causes are likely to reap big rewards, given that Bill Gates’s net worth is pegged at about $137 billion and Melinda French Gates’s at $6 billion.
Big Gifts to Universities
Meanwhile, Nike co-founder Phil Knight and his wife, Penny’s, $500 million contribution to the University of Oregon tied for second place on the list. The gift will be used to expand the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact and follows a $500 million donation the Knights gave to launch the science campus in 2016. The Knight Campus aims to speed up the process of transforming new scientific discoveries into medical treatments and other developments to improve people’s lives.
Phil Knight, whose net worth stands at about $60 billion, earned a bachelor’s degree in business from the university in 1959. The couple have given the university a total of at least $1.6 billion to date.
Also tied for No. 2 is a $500 million challenge pledge the financier George Soros made through his Open Society Foundations to Bard College for its endowment. The pledge aims to persuade other donors to back the college’s effort to raise $1 billion over the next five years.
College officials announced in April that the pledge had already helped them raise $250 million from other donors. Soros, whose net worth is pegged at $8.6 billion, founded Soros Fund Management, a New York firm that manages hedge funds.
Holding the No. 3 spot on the list is a $480 million donation to Northwestern University from Patrick Ryan, founder of Ryan Specialty Group, an insurance services company, and his wife, Shirley. The Ryans, whose net worth stands at close to $8 billion, gave the money to their alma mater for a variety of programs.
The money will back education and research efforts in applied microeconomics, business, digital medicine, global health, neuroscience, and translational research programs at the university’s Feinberg School of Medicine. A portion of the gift will also pay for building projects.
The Chronicle’s annual top-10 list of the largest gifts announced by individuals or their foundations totaled more than $18.1 billion in 2021. (The 2021 list actually includes 11 donations because of ties.) The contributions on the 2021 list went primarily to well-established institutions. Eight of the 11 gifts are from billionaires whose cumulative wealth totals $426.3 billion.
The Chronicle’s annual rankings are based on the 10 biggest publicly announced gifts. The tally does not include contributions of artwork or gifts from anonymous donors. In February, the Chronicle will unveil its annual ranking of the 50 biggest donors, a list based on individuals’ total contributions in 2021 rather than individual gifts.
To learn about other big donations, see our database of gifts of $1 million or more, which is updated throughout the week.