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Mark Zuckerberg Is America's Biggest Philanthropist

Scott Lucas | February 10, 2014 | Story Politics

Ask around the nonprofit scene in town and you'll hear a common, if off the record, complaint. Despite their great wealth, many leaders of the technology aren't making charitable donations at the same rate that their peers in other industries are. Part of it might be sour grapes—after all, who doesn't want more money? But part of it does reflect what appears to be a real disconnect between the new wealth and the old line of philanthropies. (After all, how many 24 year olds are even going to the Symphony—let alone kicking in millions?) There's a real sense that many of the new tech millionaires are as stingy with their charitable giving as their are with access to their source code.

But new data released by the Chronicle of Philanthropy indicates that some of those concerns might be overblown. After all, America's biggest donors in the last year were Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, who donated $999.2 million in Facebook stock to Mountain View's Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which supports youth programs in areas like education, social welfare spending, and foster youth support services. Zuckerberg and Chan donated the same amount of shares to the Foundation in 2012 and in 2010 pledged $100 million to public schools in Newark, New Jersey. Even if that donation is in company stock, which could go up or down in value, it's still a massive contribution. They weren't the only Bay Area techies to make the list.

Joing Zuckerberg on the list of the 50 largest donors were several other members of Silicon Valley. In ninth place were Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his (reportedly estranged) wife Anne Wojcicki, who donated $219 million in total, including large gifts to the anti-poverty Tipping Point Community; Ashoka, a social entrepreneurship group; and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. Larry Ellison, lately in the news as negotiations to return the America's Cup to San Francisco continue, came in 26th with donations of $72.2 million to his personal foundation, which is broadening its reach from biomedical research, as well as a donation of land in Saratoga to establish a wildlife rehabilitation center. Rounding out the list at 36 was Netscape co-founder James Clark, who gave $60 million to the Stanford center for biomedical research that bears his name.

The Bay Area also had representation from non-tech donors, including number six, investor Charles Johnson, who gave $250 million to Yale, number sixteen, South Bay real estate developer John Arrillaga, who gave $151 million to Stanford; and at number 31, Stephen and Nancy Grand, who gave a total of $67 million cancer reserach and other charities.

So while it might not be enough to calm the tension here in town over rising rents and gentrification—or even Marc Benioff—it's no small amount either. Granted it hardly makes a dent in Zuckerberg's estimated net worth of $19 billion. Their gift is around five percent of their total assets—or to put it another way, about the same percent of the total as it was when we kicked in a ten dollar bill to the SFPCA in front of the Macy's windows last December.

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