Bill Gates wasn’t always known as a wise and benevolent philanthropist (and clap-heavy dancer), dedicated to, among other things, finding a cure for cancer, funding public health studies that illuminate the harmful effects of alcohol, or sounding the alarm on how destructive a global pandemic would be.
Since sometime after 1986, when he appeared on the Fortune cover at age 30 for a deal that made him $350 million (about $950 million today, adjusted for inflation), he became something more like a supervillain. By 1995, Time put him on the cover with the headline “Master of the Universe.” Things change, though. Wired highlighted “Bill Gates’ plan to save the world” in 2021.
Now it’s Jeff Bezos’s turn to try to rehab his image and take his turn playing Batman. He’s not like other billionaires, he’s a billionaire hopping on the in-vogue movement of wanting to give his billions away, or at least saying he will.
The world’s second-richest man (for now) sat down with CNN this weekend and was asked whether he plans to give away the majority of his wealth in his lifetime. “Yeah, I do,” he responded.
What’s not as trendy: giving a detailed plan of upcoming gifts. How the founder of Amazon plans to shell out his $124 billion seems to be a bit of an intentional mystery. In the CNN interview, Bezos didn’t lay out anything like a plan to save the world. He did, though, reveal himself to be a Dolly Parton fan.
Although his future philanthropy plans are unclear, since 2021 he has been using his Courage and Civility Award to donate $100 million to do-gooders he believes will use his money well. He and his girlfriend, Lauren Sánchez, let CNN know on Saturday that Parton is the latest recipient of the Courage and Civility Award, and she'll get $100 million to donate as she sees fit.
Bezos has gotten some pushback in the past for not signing the Giving Pledge, a promise many ultra-high-net-worth individuals, including Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, have made to give away the majority of their wealth.
There’s also the case of the philanthropy of his ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, who’s given away $12 billion in two years.
Scott became the richest woman in the world after her divorce from Bezos in 2019. At the time she was worth about $68 billion, a number that has dropped to $23.8 billion more recently as Amazon stock has declined, and she’s donated a tremendous amount, mainly to nonprofit organizations. Scott is making this philanthropy thing seem easy. Just as her ex-husband announced his plans to someday give away more, Scott announced that she’s donated $2 billion to 343 organizations over the past seven months.
Bezos was a bit more hesitant when it comes to pledging away his money. “The hard part is figuring out how to do it in a levered way. It’s not easy,” he said of his thoughts on big donations.
Bezos made the largest single charitable donation of 2020, a gift of $10 billion toward creating the Bezos Earth Fund, which seeks to ally with nonprofits that are tackling climate change.
Gates has more of a straightforward approach than Bezos’s multilayered donation process. The fellow billionaire said in July that he was giving $20 billion to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and tweeted that he would eventually “give virtually all my wealth” to the charity.
“It’s not easy. It’s really hard,” Bezos said of giving away money. “And there are a bunch of ways, I think, that you could do ineffective things too. So we’re building the capacity to be able to give away this money.”
While it’s not a giving pledge, it’s a pledge to continue to one day maybe give.