Moving America Forward

Mark Zuckerberg and the Rise of the Young Tech Philanthropists

February 13, 2014
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Mark Zuckerberg and the Rise of the Young Tech Philanthropists
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The Facebook founder and his wife Priscilla Chan topped the list of the most generous donors in 2013 at the young age of 29. Are we about to see a shift in our country’s most philanthropic?

Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan were the top philanthropists in 2013, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual list of the 50 Most Generous Donors, giving just under $1 billion to their Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which will disperse the funds to other charitable organizations. While it should come as no surprise that the Facebook founder and his wife would donate such a large sum of money in just one year — after all, they’re known philanthropists — the fact that this duo tops the list at the young age of 29 reflects a possible change in the makeup of the country’s top charitable donors. More specifically, are we entering an age of young tech philanthropists?

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“In general, people who make their own money are most likely to give it away more than people who inherited it or earned it through investment-related activity,” Leslie Lenkowsky, professor of philanthropy and public works at Indiana University in Bloomington, told the Christian Science Monitor. “What’s playing out now is [that] the entrepreneurs of the 1990s are reaching a point in their lives where their businesses are in very good shape, and they’re looking toward other things in their lives and giving is an important part of it.” While the median age of donors on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s 2013 list was 72.5, as more young tech entrepreneurs begin to experience higher levels of success, it’s certainly possible that the age of large donors could decrease in the future. This is especially true given the success of innovative tech startups, which are often helmed by young adults.

Billionaires like Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates — who were not included on this year’s list because their donations for the year were pledged in years prior — also are motivating people to give back. They’ve effectively challenged the world’s wealthiest individuals to give the majority of their money away through The Giving Pledge. While only a few of the world’s youngest billionaires — Zuckerberg included — have taken the pledge so far, 19 of the 50 donors on this list have signed it. Proof that a push from these well-known (and highly respected) philanthropists can influence giving. Overall, America’s biggest donors gave over $7.7 billion to nonprofits in 2013, mostly to colleges, foundations, and hospitals. If Gates and Buffett can influence a few more of these wealthy young adults to sign their pledge, just imagine what this list will look like 10 years from now. We’re guessing the median age might be a bit younger than 72.5.

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