Forbes last week released a report detailing how charitable the richest Americans really are. Surprise: the report isn’t all that flattering.
55 individuals on the Forbes 400 received a score of “N/A” with no available record of charitable giving. The plurality—fully 144 individuals—have given away less than 1% of their net worth. At the top of the ranking, only nine individuals have given away more than 20% of their net worth.
With less than 7% of the 400 wealthiest Americans giving away more than 10% of their net worth, the report goes a long way to making these billionaires seem less than philanthropic. But there are two things to bear in mind about this kind of report.
In the first place, ranking charitable giving as a percentage of net worth is a strange approach. As Forbes notes in its methodology, they take “into account all types of assets: stakes in public and private companies, real estate, art, yachts, planes, ranches, vineyards, jewelry, car collections and more.”
Many of these wealthy individuals have a great deal of their net worth tied up in businesses that they are still running or involved with. In other words, their net worth isn’t “cash” that can be easily given away. Sure, they might buy fewer yachts and support more charities—that would be good for everyone—but the decision to donate or not isn’t always so simple as balancing jewelry and planes against charity.
That said, perhaps this list will go to remind fundraisers that the sheer scale of net worth is not an indication of propensity to give. The 400 individuals on this list have massive amounts of money to donate and, for good or ill, very few have shown themselves to have a significant interest in charitable giving.
Every year when the Forbes 400 list comes out, some nonprofit development director somewhere is scouring the list for his next best prospect. Hopefully this charity-ranking supplement will help us all to see that wealth alone does not a philanthropist make.