The secret to living is giving. That is to say, by contributing to the well-being of others, our communities and the world at large, we find more meaning in life. Many high profile people have learned this lesson, choosing to donate their financial resources to communities and causes that need support. Celebrity philanthropists can make a big difference by giving back some of their wealth, and set an important example for their wide fan base. Today’s biggest philanthropists take this responsibility very seriously when wielding their influence and dollars alike.
Take Tony Robbins, for instance. For years, Tony has given to others. From leading the 100 Million Meals Challenge with Feeding America, helping to provide a quarter of a billion meals to those in need, to working with Operation Underground Railroad to prevent child trafficking, Tony’s learned that the key to fulfillment is not receiving, but giving.
While Tony’s efforts demonstrate exactly what it is to be a philanthropist, he’s just one of many celebrity philanthropists making a positive impact on the causes that matter to them. The following famous philanthropists have earned big, yet understand that their wealth comes with a measure of responsibility. Giving back is an important part of fame that many of our favorite stars are tuning into, using their financial resources to spread change and contribute to areas they are passionate about.
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What is a philanthropist?
Before we get into the list, let’s take a deeper look at the question, “What is a philanthropist?”
Let’s start with a dictionary definition:
In short, a philanthropist is someone who donates their money, experience, time, talent or skills to help others and create a better world. Though we often think of a philanthropist as someone who has millions of dollars to donate, you don’t have to be a famous philanthropist with a huge net worth to qualify.
Of course, it never hurts to look up to a famous philanthropist who’s changing the world as a role model. Here are 12 of the most influential celebrity philanthropists making a difference in our world.
Of all the celebrity philanthropists, Bill Gates is referred to most often. The founder of Microsoft has long made headlines for his charitable donations, in part because Gates himself is worth so much. Estimated to be worth nearly $94 billion, Gates has given away nearly $50 billion over the years to various nonprofits. Gates is someone who realizes that people who are incredibly wealthy owe it to the world to give back. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was founded in 2000 to “improve the quality of life for individuals around the world.” With billions of dollars to use, the foundation has done everything from providing educational resources in Chicago to healthcare support in Nigeria. As two of the world’s biggest philanthropists, Bill and Melinda have not only found a way to make the world a better place, but they’ve also developed a common goal of giving back that helps strengthen their connection as a couple.
Since the year 2000, Warren Buffett has given more than $46 billion to charity and is commonly known as one of the world’s biggest philanthropists. As the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett is believed to be worth roughly $84 billion, making him the second richest person in the world after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Buffett has given portions of his wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Sherwood Foundation and the NoVo Foundation. Not only has this famous philanthropist given away a substantial chunk of his own wealth, but he has also helped put in place a charge for other ultra-rich individuals to do the same. In 2010, Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates launched The Giving Pledge, urging billionaires to publicly dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. Along with his incredible generosity as a philanthropist, Buffett is also known for his humility and commitment to living simply, showing that he has strong values and knows what it takes to create an extraordinary life.
Oprah Winfrey is perhaps one of the most impressive of the world’s top celebrity philanthropists because she truly fits the term “self-made.” After growing up in a poor household in Mississippi and enduring sexual abuse, she still managed to overcome the many obstacles she faced and find major success. Not only has Winfrey brought to light the needs of people around the globe through her talk show and reporting endeavors, but she’s donated millions of dollars through the Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation. Her foundation took on most of the responsibilities of the Angel Network and the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation, contributing more than $140 million to The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. As a philanthropist, she’s also supported causes like Time’s Up, N Street Village and the Museum of African American History and Culture. Oprah is the epitome of philanthropic and has shown that famous philanthropists don’t have to come from wealthy families and that they can choose the causes that have the most meaning for them.
You probably know Michael Jordan as one of the most talented NBA players of all time, but he has transcended that role to become one of the most influential celebrity philanthropists in the nation. Since becoming a majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets, Jordan has helped the team give away more than $3 million to a number of causes, including those related to the military, education and feeding the hungry. As a personal philanthropist, he’s made multimillion-dollar donations to Friends of the Children, donated $2 million to Hurricane Florence relief efforts and has served as Make-A-Wish’s Chief Wish Ambassador since 2008. Jordan has shown that he understands lifelong growth is possible and continues to grow by contributing outside himself to make a big difference in the lives of others.
Mark Zuckerberg found success at a young age by creating a website in college that would later become Facebook. Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have pledged to give away 99% of their wealth to charity over the course of their lifetimes. Currently, that’s around $46 billion, making them some of the biggest philanthropists on the planet. Together they created the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which aims to provide equal opportunities for people while unlocking human potential. By providing funding to science, justice and education initiatives, the Chan-Zuckerberg family plans to make a world of difference. Given their large personal and professional net worth, it’s likely they’ll stay on top of the famous philanthropist list for many years into the future. Like Melinda and Bill Gates, this couple has shown that they understand unconditional love and compassion makes both relationships and philanthropy work.
Serena Williams is a superstar on the court, but she’s just as big of a star when it comes to philanthropic endeavors. Serena and her sister Venus opened The Yetunde Price Resource Center in their hometown of Compton, named after their sister who was a victim of gang violence. The Center creates resources for Compton community members and promotes healing and resiliency for locals. Serena also sells her daughter’s baby clothing on Poshmark and donates proceeds to the Williams Sisters Fund, which uses the money for violence prevention, education and athletic engagement in the inner city.
When you think of wildly successful authors, J.K. Rowling always comes to mind. The Harry Potter writer has captivated people all over the world with her spellbinding characters and magical world-building. However, she should also come to mind when you think of the world’s top celebrity philanthropists. From books, movies, theme parks and merchandise sales, Rowling quickly rose to billionaire-status. Today, due to her numerous charitable donations, Rowling is now worth closer to $650 million and has become a philanthropic role model. Her global charity Lumos, named for a spell in the wizarding series, aims to help children who have been wrongfully separated from their families and placed in orphanages. Lumos supports child welfare programming by advocating for and funding various education, health and social care system reforms. Rowling remains one of the most outspoken celebrity philanthropists who backs up her monetary contributions with efforts to enact international political change.
Diane von Furstenberg
Among the most glamorous philanthropists is iconic designer and businesswoman Diane von Furstenberg. The fashion designer responsible for the creation and popularity of the wrap dress, von Furstenberg has become one of the biggest philanthropists in the fashion industry. She and her husband, media mogul and founder of the USA network Barry Diller, have pledged to give over $1 billion in charitable contributions. As the director of The Diller – von Furstenberg Family Foundation, this famous philanthropist has already helped generate millions of dollars to help organizations in the public spaces, community building, education, arts, human rights and environmental sectors.
Cuban-American rap superstar Pitbull clearly knows the power of music and happens to be one of the most high-profile celebrity philanthropists in the world. His philanthropic efforts helped create the Sports Leadership and Management Academy (SLAM) in Little Havana to give opportunities to disadvantaged youth in Miami. Recently, he’s made plans to expand SLAM into seven other locations including Las Vegas and Atlanta. The entertainment mogul has also been inducted into the Ambassador David M. Walters International Pediatric Hall of Fame for his support of the Miami Children’s Foundation and is an avid supporter of the Imaginate Foundation, an organization that provides resources for low-income families in the Miami area. He may be known as “Mr. Worldwide,” but Pitbull could just as easily be known as “Mr. Philanthropist.”
Hedge fund manager George Soros landed on the famous philanthropist list by transferring the bulk of his wealth – over $23 billion – to his charitable organization, the Open Society Foundations. That’s far from his only contribution, however. He’s been giving charitably since 1979 and truly knows the importance of never-ending contribution. His international group of charities works in more than 100 different countries and donates time, talent and money to projects involving public health, refugee relief and scholarships for underprivileged children.
Politician, author and now one of the country’s biggest philanthropists, Michael Bloomberg is the sixth richest person in the United States. He uses this wealth in a way that is in line with his life’s work – by helping to improve city governments around the world. In 2018 alone, Bloomberg donated $767 million, and has pledged $1.8 billion to his alma mater Johns Hopkins University which will be paid out this year. Bloomberg is the perfect example of a famous philanthropist who clearly understands that living a fulfilling life is only possible when you contribute beyond yourself.
It’s nearly impossible to make a list of the biggest philanthropists without including Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon. His ability to turn situations to his advantage and build what is arguably the most disruptive business in history has given him immense opportunities to affect change. The richest man in the world, Bezos has been criticized for his lack of charitable giving in the past and has taken that to heart. In 2018, he became a top philanthropist by giving over $2 billion through his Bezos Day One Fund, mostly to nonprofits that help homeless families. He’s also in the process of creating nonprofit preschools in low-income communities. The son of a Cuban immigrant, Bezos has successfully connected a cause to his charitable giving, an important step for anyone who really wants to get the most out of giving back.
The biggest celebrity philanthropists in the world have ample resources at their disposal and nearly unlimited opportunities to help others. They have the funds to make a big difference and the social capital to spread their message. You might not have these same resources at your disposal to be philanthropic, but you still have the opportunity to make a positive impact. Look for ways that you can give back to your local community or causes that speak to you, either financially, through volunteering or by raising awareness. Can you set aside a small portion of your paycheck toward a worthy cause or make time to contribute to an organization you care about? Start giving back today and feel a new sense of fulfillment.
How to be philanthropic
Anyone can be philanthropic whether you have millions of dollars or just a few hundred in the bank. If you can’t donate a lot of money to worthy causes, you can still find plenty of ways to make an impact such as donating supplies to a school or shelters, volunteering at a soup kitchen or becoming a mentor to at-risk youth. If you can’t donate goods or money, donate your time. You can still make a difference in the lives of others and feel the fulfillment that comes from selfless acts of kindness.
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Although not all contributions can be as large as the ones made by famous philanthropists, they are still important. Learn how you can give back.