Social Giving

How Does Zuckerberg’s Ebola Pledge Measure Up To Other Bigwig Donations?

The Facebook founder promised $25 million to the CDC to help fight Ebola—but how does his gift stack up against the biggest charitable donations by other billionaires?

10.14.14 6:45 PM ET

Mark Zuckerberg is putting $25 million towards tackling an epidemic that has paralyzed the world. On Monday, the tech scion announced he and his wife, Priscilla Chan would be gifting some of their millions to the CDC Foundation in the fight against Ebola. Posting on Facebook (where else?) that the disease  “is at a critical turning point,” Zuckerberg wrote of hopes to avoid a drawn-out global health crisis like HIV or polio. 

Still, the lump sum, generous as it is, barely holds a candle to previous gifts from the social network founder, and is a drop in the bucket for his major donor contemporaries in the billionaire community.

In 2013 alone Zuckerberg and Chan set a record for charitable giving for the year, with their gift of 18 million Facebook shares (worth more than $970 million) to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The year before, they donated the same number of shares, then worth around half a billion, to the organization. Zuckerberg, with a net worth is around $29.7 billion, has plenty to give, and has already pledged to donate at least half his earnings to philanthropic causes.

There was plenty of giving in 2013—Zuckerberg topped the list, but others, like Nike founder Phil Knight, rounded it out to a cool $7.7 billion donated by the top 50 givers over the year.

Which is $30 billion less than the largest ever single donation. Warren Buffett, probably 20th Century’s most successful investment mogul, handed over $37.4 billion of his $44 billion fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as part of his plan to give away 99 percent of his wealth. The donation was made in shares of his firm, Berkshire Hathaway, so it’s subject to fluctuation, but Buffett—a man who’s lived in the same Nebraska house since 1958—has been unambiguous in his plans to rid himself of excessive funds. "I am not an enthusiast of dynastic wealth, particularly when the alternative is six billion people having that much poorer hands in life than we have, having a chance to benefit from the money," he said.

In 2010, Bill Gates made the third largest donation in history with a $10 billion pledge to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to vaccinate the rural poor in the next decade. Eleven years earlier, Gates had set the record for biggest gift of all time by pledging $11 billion to the foundation. The Gates have taken a pledge similar to Buffett’s—promising to rid themselves of 95 percent of their fortune.

Other than Buffett’s gift to Gates, nearly all the largest donations have followed this trend of going from the founder to his or her personal foundation.

In 2001, William Hewlett’s estate gave $6 billion to his own charity, pledging support to education and culture. His partner in business, David Packard, similarly gave $1.65 billion to his Packard Humanities Institute the year before. Herbert Sandler gave $1.3 billion to the Sandler Family Supporting Foundation, and the Stowers, of American Century, gave more than $1 billion to their medical research institute.

Some of the top givers have chosen to diversify. The estate of Joan Kroc, third wife of McDonald’s CEO, donated $1.5 billion to Salvation Army in 2004 and the Walter Annenberg estate gave $1 billion to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Famously, Ted Turner in 1997 founded the United Nations Foundation with a generous $1 billion in seed money.

In 2010, Buffett and Gates added pressure to the donation game: they began the Giving Pledge, which requires signees to donate half of all income to charity. Four years later, more than 125 billionaires took the pledge, including Zuckerberg. The ratio—there are 492 billionaires in the U.S. and only 1,645 in the world—is nothing to scoff at.