25 Billionaires and Millionaires That Became Philanthropists

Some people feel philanthropy is only about foundations donating lots of money, but that’s only one part. Philanthropy is about people giving their time, help and care to causes they support, making the world a better place to live in. Philanthropic activities come in many forms, some people choose to contribute a huge sum of money to charity or create a park for the community. Some like to create facilities for recreation or provide scholarships for needy students. People love to hate rich people because they are often unaware of how the rich quite often use their fame and fortune for philanthropic purposes. The following is a list of 25 such outrageously rich people that understand the phrase “with great power comes great responsibility.” In no particular order:

1) Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett is no stranger to humble beginnings. As a boy, he delivered newspapers and filed his first tax return at the age of 13, claiming a deduction of $35 for his bicycle. Under the tutelage of guru Benjamin Graham, Buffett studied value investing at Columbia and went to be one of the greatest business minds of our time. America’s much-loved investor and the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway ranked in second place on The World’s Billionaires of 2007.

In his late age, Buffett has made a $31 billion commitment to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that will sponsor efforts to improve education in the U.S. and health and standards of living worldwide. He has also allocated billions to autonomous family foundations like Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation and NoVo Foundation that support causes from worldwide conservation to reproductive health.

2) Donald Bren

Born and brought up in Los Angeles and then Newport Beach, California, Donald Bren obtained a degree in business administration and economics at the University of Washington where he also opted for graduate studies in the business school. He founded the Bren Company to build homes in Orange County in 1958 and worked day and night to a $4 billion valuation.

He is among the state’s most charitable philanthropists, directing his contributions so as to have a significant impact on research and education, as well as to support the conservation of species and natural habitat like the Irvine Ranch. Besides gifting $20 million to fund elementary fine arts, science and music programs at Irvine schools, he discreetly donated properties to retirement communities and schools.

3) Bernard Osher

Married but childless, Bernard Osher, a self-made millionaire, co-founded Golden West Financial in 1963 with his sister Marion and her husband, Herbert Sandler. Having already contributed over $700 million into the Bernard Osher Foundation that supports higher education, arts and integrative medicine in his native Maine and the San Francisco Bay region, Osher hopes to live long enough to be able to donate his entire fortune to similar causes.

Nearing his eighties, he operates a scholarship program for people who have crossed 50 and thanks to the Bernard Osher Foundation, the needs of older learners who always wanted to learn for personal satisfaction and joy have been met through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes across the U.S.

4) Alfred Mann

Having founded as many as 11 biomedical companies, Mann’s net worth exceeds $2.2 billion according to recent estimates. What does Mann plan to do with all that money? He hopes to put his wealth into biomedical research towards a healthier future for all of mankind.

The biotech entrepreneur has been instrumental in giving to the world some of the greatest advances in medicine like the Pacesetter pacemakers, cochlear implants, Minimed insulin pumps, Second Sight prosthetic retinas and Advanced Bionics neurostimulators. His latest efforts are being directed towards the research and development of an inhalable from of insulin, and cancer research. He works 90 hours each week and says he will give away his whole fortune to medical research and charity.

5) Michael Dell

Founder of Dell Computers, Michael attended the University of Texas with hopes of becoming a doctor. He soon deserted that goal and started selling computer equipment at the age of 19. Starting with just $1000 to his name, he created a more than $20 billion empire by the age of 40.

From 1999, his wife, Susan and he have contributed over $1.2 billion towards education and child development programs in Texas and post Hurricane Katrina, they gave $5 million to help the storm victims. They also contributed generously to micro-finance lenders in six biggest cities of India, making an effort to lift million of slum dwellers out of poverty. The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation is dedicated to making the lives of children better in the United States of America as well as internationally.

6) George Kaiser

Born in a family that had fled Nazi Germany and settled in Tulsa, the Kaiser family history isn’t one we would wish on anyone. Turning his family’s past into a motivating force, George Kaiser successfully received a bachelor’s degree and MBA from Harvard University. He then speedily took over the family owned Kaiser-Francis Oil Co. and then expanded into banking and real estate.

At the same time, through George Kaiser Family Foundation, he fights child poverty and serves as benefactor to the over 5,000 Jewish people in Oklahoma. Most often contributing quietly and without fanfare, Kaiser supports causes like public health campaigns and social services that help lessen poverty and improve living conditions for the average person. His Tulsa-based foundation has contributed in millions of dollars to improve and develop the economy in the local community. Kaiser says he plans to give more “until I die with one dollar left, assuming I can get the timing just right.”

7) Ruth Lilly

Ruth Lilly is the only living heir to the Eli Lilly fortune started out by Colonel Eli Lilly, her great-great grandfather. In November 2002 Lilly pledged $100 million worth of stock to the Poetry Foundation, a small nonprofit organization in Chicago that publishes Poetry Magazine, and another gift as large the Arts in Washington. From 1986 every year a living U.S. poet has been awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize of $100,000 for extraordinary accomplishments throughout his life. Lilly also supports health education, health care, historic preservation and youth programs.

8 ) Michael Bloomberg

The 108th Mayor of the New York City, Bloomberg was taught as very early the value of working hard and public responsibility. He went to John Hopkins University, paying his fees through loans and working as a parking lot attendant in summer, going on to earn an MBA from Harvard Business School and opening Bloomberg LP in 1981. Usually an anonymous donor, Bloomberg contributes around $140 million every year towards education, public health, arts and social services in New York. He has contributed to the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation and has already bought a townhouse for the foundation he wants to setup on the Upper East Side.

9) Veronica Atkins

Among the wealthiest women in the country, Mrs. Atkins, wife of the former Robert C. Atkins, is also said to be one of its most charitable, and has been featured among the top few philanthropists by Newsweek, BusinessWeek and the New York Times. Despite a traumatic childhood in which she fled Russia, she still supports a few Russian orphanages. When her husband, Dr. Robert Atkins passed away in 2003, she vowed to carry on with his mission to prevent disease and manage good health. She renamed her late husband’s private charity to the Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Foundation to show her dedication and increased the gifted professorships to eight hoping to see more results towards wiping out diabetes and obesity.

10) Jeff Skoll

Jeff Skoll was the founding president and second employee of eBay, the internet auction firm. With a fortune estimated to be more than $5 billion, he is known for using his wealth for charitable purposes and to setup Participant Productions, his autonomous movie production company. Skoll has setup a center for social entrepreneurship at the Oxford University where he holds a world forum every year on how to use good principles in business for the betterment of society.

He has also given the charitable Skoll Foundation $250 million worth of eBay stock, which the foundation uses to make grants of over $30 million per year. Skoll’s largest contribution has been $7.5 million to gift the first Canadian double degree program to gifted students; they earn Bachelors in Engineering and MBA in An 80-month program at the Toronto University.

11) Ted Turner

CNN founder Turner has not only gained success in cable television, but in real estate: Owning several ranches in America has made him the biggest single landowner in the U.S. Besides staying actively involved in his fast expanding Ted’s Montana Grill chain of restaurants, Turner devotes his time to making the world a safer, better place to live in.

He has pledged $1 billion to the UN and supports Nuclear Threat Initiative and Better World Fund foundations that he created to reduce nuclear weapons and make people aware of the UN’s programs. His other philanthropic interests include Turner Foundation, Capital Planet Foundation and the Turner Endangered Species Fund.

12) Bernard Marcus

Born to Jewish-Russian parents who immigrated to Newark, Bernard wished to become a doctor but settled for a pharmacy degree due to financial constraints and worked for his father, a cabinet-maker. Bernard Marcus co-founded Home Depot with Arthur Blank in 1978.

Through the Marcus Foundation, he funded the $290 million aquarium in his hometown of Atlanta. He founded and funded the Marcus Institute, a well-known center providing complete services to children having developmental disabilities. The foundation has no endowment but gets funding every year from Marcus, who wants to give away his fortune while he is still living.

13) Robert Meyerhoff

After graduating as a civil engineer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Robert Meyerhoff joined the family construction business that he later left to setup Henderson-Webb, managing property and construction. With his wife, he developed an exceptional collection of post-World War II art worth $300 million that they have willed to the National Gallery of Art in Washington after his death.

Though the Meyerhoffs have contributed widely to education, the most noteworthy of all is the Meyerhoff Scholars Program created in 1988 at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County funding science and math scholarships to black students.

14) Paul Allen

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has made considerable donations to human services and health related organizations. He setup the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation in 1986 through which he grants about $30 million each year. A student of Washington State University, he donated to its music school. He donated even more to the University of Washington for a new library and a center for visual arts named after each parent. He is also a top contributor at $14 million of the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering. His $100-million brain science institute will help sort out neurological disorders. The foundation also funds art and culture events, health, youth, community development and human services.

15) Thomas Monaghan

Entrepreneur Tom Monaghan founded the Domino’s Pizza chain in 1960. Thirty-eight years later and millions of dollars later, he sold it and gradually started devoting his time and money to Catholic philanthropy and political causes. His Vatican visit to see the Pope deepened his faith and he soon setup Ave Maria Radio, the Ave Maria List pro-life political action committee and the Thomas More Law Center, a law firm aimed at defending Christians’ rights in public interest.

His foundation also fights poverty in South and Central America. His private Ave Maria Foundation finances Catholic education, community projects, Catholic media and other Catholic charities which include a school in Michigan and the $250-million Ave Maria University centered on Catholic values and having a capacity of 6,000 students.

16) Thomas Boone Pickens, Jr.

An American businessman,T. Boone Pickens chairs the BP Capital Management hedge fund and has has been a well-known takeover operator since the 1980s. A football fan, he has donated $165 million to the athletics department of Oklahoma State University; the amount invested in the hedge fund is estimated to cross $300 million.

He has generously donated to the American Red Cross and the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children and is a volunteer for Meals on Wheels. Pickens has been financing the Stillwater campus of Oklahoma State University (OSU), his alma mater. This year Pickens gave $100 million dollars towards academics at the OSU. He has already donated over $700 million to charity.

17) J. K. Rowling

Named by Forbes as the first person to become a billionaire (in U.S. dollars) by writing books, this British children’s writer setup the Volant Charitable Trust, to help women and children fight poverty and social discrimination. It has a yearly budget of £5.1 million. The fund also donates to organizations that help children, single parent families and multiple sclerosis research.

She is president of One Parent Families, a nonprofit in the U.K. that educates, supports and advocates for single parents. A single parent, she has been among the organization’s main ambassadors and supporters from 2000. Rowling thinks that when one receives a lot more than one requires, one has a moral responsibility to do the wise thing with it and donate intelligently.

18) Oprah Winfrey

Chairman of Harpo Productions, Oprah Winfrey is an American television host and media magnate. The Oprah Winfrey Show, her talk show that has garnered international acclaim and won several Emmy awards, is rated at the top in television history. She is an Academy Award-nominated actress, a magazine publisher and a book critic.

Every year, Winfrey personally gives about $50 million to educate children, women, and families. She recently opened a youth center in her Mississippi hometown. She enhances her power of giving through her public charity, Oprah’s Angel Network, through which audience members get funded scholarships, women’s shelters and youth centers. She is among America’s top 50 most generous philanthropists, having contributed an approximate $303 million.

19) George Soros

George Soros was born in 1930 in Budapest, Hungary and immigrated to England in 1947, at the age of 17. After working as a restaurant waiter and a railroad porter, he graduated from the London School of Economics.

A global financier, George Soros founded and chairs a network of foundations that encourage the formation of open democratic societies based on market economies, the rule of law, transparent and accountable governance, respect for human rights and freedom of the press. He has been an active philanthropist since 1979, when he gave funds to assist black students attend University of Cape Town in apartheid South Africa.

Soros has donated over $6 billion, out of which $742 million has been directed to projects within the U.S.

20) Johns Hopkins

A wealthy entrepreneur and abolitionist from 19th century Baltimore, Hopkins is famous for the philanthropic creation of institutions that carry his name. Johns Hopkins died on Christmas Eve of 1873 leaving no heirs and $7 million, most of it in Baltimore & Ohio Railroad stock to setup his institutions. At the time this was the biggest single contribution made to educational institutions ever.

As per his request, the Johns Hopkins Colored Children Orphan Asylum was setup first in 1895 followed by Johns Hopkins University, the Johns Hopkins Press (longest running American academic press), Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing in 1889, and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1893.

21) Paul Newman

In a career spanning 45 years, Newman’s face can be instantly recognized, due to his motion pictures and his natural foods brand. He has become a successful businessman like his father, having established his own food company along with writer friend A. E. Hotchner. Newman turned into a champion race car driver and is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest person in history to win the Rolex 24-hour endurance race. Over the last several years he has donated over $90 million to charity turning himself into a generous philanthropist.

22) Andrew Carnegie

Born in a poor Scottish family that immigrated to the U.S., Carnegie became an influential and leading businessman in the American steel industry. His is a real “rags to riches” story. He is remembered today as an industrialist, millionaire, and philanthropist.

Carnegie believed that the wealthy have a compulsion to return to society, so he gave away most of his fortune to causes like peace and education. He retired in 1901 at age 66 as the world’s richest man. In 1902 he setup the Carnegie Institution to sponsor scientific research and pension fund for teachers by donating $10 million. He also donated $125 million to a foundation called the Carnegie Corporation to help colleges and schools.

23) Percy Ross

Born to poor immigrants from Latvia and Russia, Ross made a fortune producing plastic film and trash bags. After giving away over 1,000 bicycles at a children’s holiday party at the Minneapolis Convention Center in the late 1970s, Ross came up with the idea of doling out cash to his syndicated column readers.

$30 million and 17 years later, he closed his wallet saying he felt richer than before having achieved his goal and given it all away. Through his column he raised money for organ transplants, helped pay for recreational centers and gave away dollars with his simple wisdom.

24) Larry Stewart

A millionaire, Stewart became known as Secret Santa for roaming the streets come December and giving money to people. Stewart, who gave $1.3 million over 26 years was in the spotlight when he exposed himself as Secret Santa a few months before he succumbed to esophageal cancer, hoping to inspire others. His giving commenced in 1979 when he was at a drive-in restaurant feeling sorry for himself for being fired from his job just before Christmas, the second time in a row. It was cold and he felt sorry for the carhop who didn’t have a warm enough jacket, making just nickels and dimes. After that he often handed out $100 bills. He also contributed to community causes in Kansas City and hometown Bruce.

25) Roy M. Huffington

Houston businessman, Huffington began his career as a geologist for the Humble Oil Company and later served as an ambassador to Austria. He founded his own oil and gas firm and setup the Huffington Foundation that has given millions to Texas academic institutions and charities. He was also chairman of the New York-based Asia Society in the 1980s for over seven years.

With his wife, Phyllis, he setup the Huffington Center on Aging in 1988 at the Baylor College of Medicine that does research and delivers health care to tackle the needs of the aging making it one of the best centers on aging world-wide. He was a guiding member of the Baylor College of Medicine Board of Trustees for 20 years.

And Finally: Bill and Melinda Gates

Having already covered philanthropist colleagues Warren Buffet, Michael Dell, and Paul Allen, how could we forget Bill Gates? Though he is still widely known as a ruthless businessman and a technology industry visionary, his legacy will be a very different one. Much like Rockefeller before him, Bill Gates has all but retired from the life that brought him fame and fortune and has decided to dedicate his life along with his wife, to helping the billions of less fortunate people.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the world’s largest transparently operated private foundation in the world and has an endowment of almost $40 billion.