The 18 Most Generous Philanthropists in Finance

America has been living through a Second Gilded Age, and some of today's biggest fortunes have emerged from finance, where hedge fund managers and private equity titans score paydays that boggle the mind. 

Some of these guys (and yes, they're pretty much all guys) aren't just making tons of money; they're also giving away vast sums. But who's giving away how much, and exactly how generous they are with their wealth, isn't always so easy to figure out.

A few months back, we did a feature on The 12 Most Generous Tech Philanthropists. Unlike similar lists, we didn’t want to focus strictly on who was giving the most money away, but rather who is giving away the most relative to their net worth. Now, we’re turning an eye toward Wall Street to see how the nation’s top financiers stack up when it comes to relative generosity.

This analysis draws on IP's extensive coverage of giving by finance leaders through our Wall Street Wallets blog and related guide to top finance donors, as well as a wide range of our sources. 

Before we begin our countdown of finance philanthropists to the most generous of them all, a few caveats are in order.

First, it's hard to ever be sure how much money somebody has or how much they are giving away, and it's particularly easy for anyone to keep their giving a secret by using donor-advised funds or simply making direct gifts that don't go through a foundation and aren't subject to public reporting.

To give a dramatic example: BusinessWeek’s recently ran an article entitled The $13 Billion Mystery Angels that showed how a trio of hedge fund winners went to great lengths to keep their philanthropy a secret while giving away a vast fortune.

So while we've worked hard on our list of the most generous Wall Street philanthropists, it’s entirely possible that we missed some big givers or significantly underestimated the giving of some of those on the list.

Second, even if you know a person’s net worth, and have a pretty comprehensive accounting of their charitable activities, calculating relative generosity is still complicated because great fortunes can sometimes fluctuate wildly. A billionaire may give away a big chunk of his or her fortune, only to see what's left grow by new leaps and bounds, making their earlier generosity seem less substantial. Or, they may give big, and then lose much of the rest, making their philanthropic contributions an even bigger sacrifice of personal wealth in retrospect.

Finally, while relative generosity is our main criteria, we felt that some weight needed to be given to factors such as how long these philanthropists have had their fortune, what point they’re at in their careers, and what sort of trends we’re seeing in their more recent giving. So while the list is primarily driven by objective number-crunching, there is a degree of subjectivity as well.

Without further adieu, here are the 18 most generous financial philanthropists.

18. David Rubenstein

Unlike most philanthropists with the sort of wealth Rubenstein has accumulated, the Carlyle Group co-founder, worth approximately $3 billion, hasn’t set up a foundation to handle his charitable activities. But Rubenstein has adopted a style of high profile philanthropy which he hopes will inspire others. A self-described “patriotic philanthropist,” Rubenstein has been a major contributor to the National Archives, the Kennedy Center, the Lincoln Center, the National Zoo, the National Gallery of Art, the White House Historical Association, Mt. Vernon, and the Smithsonian, among others. He’s also been generous when it comes to education, sitting on the board at the University of Chicago, and making significant contributions to Duke, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and Johns Hopkins. His lifetime giving totals approximately $250 million -- slightly less than 10 percent of his net worth -- a number similar to numerous other philanthropists from finance who didn’t make the list. We included Rubenstein, however, because of the degree to which his philanthropy has accelerated since signing the Giving Pledge in 2010. He’s given approximately $210 million in just the last three years, with more than half of that coming in 2013 alone. See IP's full profile. 

17. Bill Ackman

Since creating the Pershing Square Foundation in 2006, Ackman has given away more than $235 million to a variety of causes -- a pretty significant chunk for someone with a $1.5 billion net worth. Ackman’s giving has been directed toward education, global development, health, arts and culture, human rights, and Jewish organizations. Some of his more significant gifts include $25 million to New Jersey public schools, $25 million to the Signature Theater Company, $30 million to the Center for Jewish History, and $10 million to Human Rights Watch. Along the way, the Pershing Square Foundation has become a more professionalized operation with a small but top-notch staff. The foundation's latest project, the Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance, supports promising innovation work by young investigators at a stage when traditional funding is lacking.  See IP's full profile

16. Charles Munger

Warren Buffett’s right hand man was number 17 on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list of top donors of 2013, giving away $150 million, with $100 million of that going to the University of Michigan for a new graduate student housing complex, and $10 million going toward a fellowship program. Of the other $40 million almost all of it went to the Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA, for a new education and visitor center. This wasn’t the first time either of these institutions had received a major contribution from Munger, either, and it likely won’t be the last. Stanford, Cal Poly, and the Marlborough School have also received contributions in excess of $10 million, bringing Munger’s total lifetime contributions to well over $260 million. That’s a pretty significant chunk of his $1.3 billion net worth, and while Munger certainly wouldn’t have made this list a few years ago, and has publicly criticized the Giving Pledge, all indications are that he plans to keep giving big. "I'm deliberately taking my net worth down.... There's nothing as insignificant as an extra $2 billion to an old man," he recently told the Omaha World-Herald. See IP's full profile  

15. Michael Bloomberg

Mike Bloomberg made his fortune in information and media, but we count him as a finance guy given his Wall Street roots and his company's core focus on financial data. The former mayor of New York, who is currently worth $34 billion, has not only given away hundreds of millions every year in recent years, he's also built up the assets of his foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, to $4.2 billion. It’s hard to put a total figure on what Bloomberg has given away, but well over a billion dollars has gone to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins and, not including gifts to his foundation that wait to be distributed, his total lifetime giving probably stands around $2.5 billion. Bloomberg's top causes include climate change and global public health, although his foundation gives money for a wide range of issues. Bloomberg seems to be a believer in trying to make a difference now rather than leaving a legacy foundation to distribute his wealth, so we're expecting him to keep ramping up his annual giving, which totaled $452 million in 2013. See IP's full profile 

14. George Kaiser

The Bank of Oklahoma owner has donated easily a quarter billion dollars to education, mostly to colleges in Oklahoma, and is the biggest contributor to the Tulsa Community Foundation, which he established in 1998, and to which his foundation has made a steady stream of large gifts. It's now the largest community foundation in the country with $4 billion in assets. Forbes estimates that Kaiser has given out just over half a billion dollars, but the George Kaiser Family Foundation is also sitting on $3 billion in assets, all of which will go to charity eventually, and has lately been flowing out at a rate of approximately $50 million a year in grants. With a current net worth of $10 billion, we expect even bigger philanthropy by this Giving Pledge signatory in coming years. See IP's full profile 

13. John Arnold

Arnold made a fortune, currently estimated at nearly $3 billion, as an energy hedge fund manager, initially starting out at Enron. But Arnold, who is only 40, closed his hedge fund in 2012 so and his wife Laura could focus full time on philanthropy. The couple has already funneled major assets to their foundation, which ranks among the 60 largest foundations in the U.S. with a $1.3 billion endowment (as of the end of 2012). The foundation isn’t just sitting on the money, either: The Arnolds gave out $261 million between 2011 and 2014, and their lifetime total looks to be around $350 million. Much of the money has gone to education, with a focus on high-performing charter schools and head start programs, though they also support work to reform the criminal justice system, improve the quality of scientific data, improve health and nutrition, and reform pension systems as a means to alleviate the fiscal crises facing many local governments. See full profile.

12 & 11. Lowell & Michael Milken

Ever since the insider trading scandal in the late 1980s that ultimately sent Michael to jail, the Milken brothers have had a lot of time to focus on philanthropy. And money, too--Michael's wealth is currently estimated at $2.5 billion, and Lowell has over $1 billion of his own as well. While they do engage in some of their philanthropy separately, the majority of it is done as a team, which is why we've chosen to list them together. Their largest philanthropic vehicle, the Milken Family Foundation, has more than $325 million in assets, and though its giving has been slowing down in recent years, it has distributed over $350 million in grants in the past two decades. Education has been a major focus.

The Milken Brothers also each have their own family foundation, Lowell’s being the more active of the two, holding $50 million in assets and giving away $2-3 million per year in grants. Lowell has also created the Lowell Milken Center, which engages students in educational projects focused on researching unsung heroes, and gave $10 million to UCLA to establish the Lowell Milken Institute for Business Law and Policy, among other things. See Lowell's IP profile. 

On Michael’s side, there’s the Milken Institute, a think tank that has received at least $150 million over the past two decades, and the Prostate Cancer Foundation, which has been receiving roughly $40 million in contributions for the past couple years, and giving out $30 million of that in grants. All told, it’s hard to say what their total lifetime giving is because they have been involved with founding so many charitable organizations, but it’s pretty safe to say it’s over $1 billion. See Michael's IP Profile

10. David Rockefeller

Though it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between David Rockefeller’s personal philanthropy, and that of the Rockefeller family, in 2006, the New York Times estimated the former chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase had donated approximately $900 million over the course of his lifetime. Though his own David Rockefeller Fund has only given out about $7 million since then, the $100 million he gave his alma mater Harvard in 2008 alone puts him over the billion dollar mark. His biggest donations, however, will come after his death. Well before signing the Giving Pledge, Rockefeller committed $225 million to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, which has already seen significant contributions, is also set to receive a major bequest of $25 million, and it would be surprising if the Museum of Modern Art and Rockefeller University, both of which Rockefeller has already given at least $100 million, didn’t receive more as well. With a $2.8 billion net worth, however, it would seem there may be another billion or more going out the door before too much longer, considering Rockefeller is 99. See IP's full profile 

9. Stanley Druckenmiller

The former Chairman and President of Duquesne Capital was named the most charitable man in America in 2009, when he put more than $700 million into the Druckenmiller Foundation, and took its annual giving from under a million to more than $25 million in a single year. The foundation now holds approximately $820 million in assets, and has given away more than $40 million per year the last several years, so it’s moving money out the door fairly quickly as well.

Druckenmiller's largest donation, $125 million, went to create the Neuroscience Institute at NYU School of Medicine, on top of another $45 million the school received for a new hospital pavilion the previous year. Druckenmiller has also given big to various other health and educational institutions, most notably Bowdoin, Stanford, and Memorial Sloan Kettering, has donated millions to major environmental organizations, and is the Chairman of the Board at Harlem Children’s Zone, where he has contributed as much as $100 million as we reported here. All told, he’s given away at least $300 million, which, when combined with the endowment he’s given his foundation, puts his lifetime giving around $1.1 billion. He’s currently worth $3.1 billion however, and has continued to increase the assets of his foundation, so don’t expect him to stop any time soon. See IP's full profile 

8. Warren Buffett

The Oracle of Omaha has famously pledged to give away 99 percent of his fortune, which currently stands at approximately $65 billion, to charity. But how much has Buffett actually given away so far? It’s hard to calculate the exact amount, partly because the value of Berkshire Hathaway stock has risen significantly in recent years, but he’s given at least $2 billion worth of stock to each of his three kids’ foundations, and $3 billion to the family foundation named after his late wife. The largest chunk by far, however, has gone to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to which he pledged the bulk of his stock holdings in 2006. He’s made plenty of smaller donations as well, though Buffett’s smaller donations, like the $50 million he gave to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, would be considered large donations by just about anyone else’s standards. All in all, Buffett has given away as much as $25 billion already, and a lot more is still destined for the Gates Foundation (even though we’re not sure this is the best way for him to give away his billions). As for the rest of it, his growing confidence in his children’s ability to put his money to good use seems to indicate that larger sums will go to Buffett family foundations than earlier thought. See IP's full profile 

7. George Soros

Soros is a great example of a finance guy who's been making money faster than he can give it way. He's been on the forefront of promoting democratic ideals for more than three decades with his global network of foundations, which now includes semi-autonomous organizations in 36 countries. His umbrella organization, the Open Society Foundations, has given away $11 billion in the past 30 years, and last year alone gave out $873 million. You can see a detailed breakdown of past and recent giving here, but to make a long story short, democratic development and human rights have been the biggest winners, along with education. Soros’s crowning achievement may be the formation of the Central European University in Budapest, where he’s donated at least $880 million. Still, no matter how much money goes out the door, more money keeps coming in. Soros's fortune has more than doubled in just the past six years, and now stands at $23 billion. See IP's full profile

6. Julian Robertson

Since starting the Robertson Foundation in 1996, the retired hedge fund manager has donated over $1 billion to charitable causes, and has been further ramping things up in recent years. We haven’t seen the numbers for 2013 yet, but more than $100 million was distributed in 2012 alone, and the foundation now boasts more than $1 billion in assets as well. Robertson has also put money into another foundation, the Tiger Foundation, which now holds approximately $140 million in assets and has gone from distributing $4-6 million per year in its first ten years of existence, to close to $20 million per year the last several years. Roberton is deeply into education and the environment, though he also gives big in other areas as well. Some of the organizations he supports have been receiving multi-million dollar checks for over a decade. A few of the bigger grantees worth mentioning are: Memorial Sloan Kettering ($65 million), Environmental Defense Fund ($71 million), Teach for America ($44 million), The Robertson Scholars Program ($35 million), Auckland Art Gallery ($120 million), Duke University ($24 million), and The National Parks Conservation Association ($30 million). Despite all this, Roberton is still worth $3.1 billion and is a Giving Pledge signatory. So get ready for even bigger Roberston philanthropy in coming years. See IP's full profile

5. Pete Peterson

Peterson scored a huge pay day in 2008 when he sold his shares in the private equity firm he co-founded, The Blackstone Group, for $1.85 billion. He then made headlines when he pledged $1 billion of that to his foundation, which mainly works on fiscal issues. (But the foundation has also given big to address nuclear security issues.) So far, Peterson has pumped somewhere around a half billion dollars into the foundation to make good on his pledge, and his net worth is estimated at $1.7 billion. So even though Peterson hasn't yet fulfilled his pledge to the foundation, he's already given away a very sizeable chunk of his net worth. See IP's full profile

4. Sandy Weill

The American Express and Citigroup executive has given more than $900 million to charity over the course of his career, mostly to health and education-related causes. About half of that has gone to endow the Weill Cornell Medical College. He’s also the founder of the National Academy Foundation, which serves more than 60,000 students at more than 500 career-themed academies offering curricula in finance, hospitality and tourism, information technology, and engineering, and a major supporter of Carnegie Hall, and numerous other hospitals and institutions of higher learning both in the U.S. and abroad. Weill has given away so much that he is no longer listed as a billionaire by Forbes, but surely still has lots of money left, and more large-scale philanthropy by this signatory of the Giving Pledge likely lies ahead. See IP's full profile

3. Denny Sanford

There’s plenty of criticism to be lobbed at Sanford in terms of how he’s made his fortune; his credit card empire, which offers high interest, low-limit cards to the credit impaired, makes almost half its revenue off fines and fees, and has written off billions in unrecoverable losses. It’s hard to criticize what Sanford has done with his money, though; Forbes estimates he’s given away approximately $850 million over the course of his career (though we estimate that number is probably closer to $1 billion), well over half as much as his current $1.4 billion net worth. Sanford supports education, children’s homes, and a variety of other causes, but more than eighty percent of his charitable contributions have gone toward health-related issues, most notably breast cancer and stem cell research, along with more than $500 million to the Sioux City Health System, which changed its name to Sanford Health. The Giving Pledge signatory has said he plans to “die broke” rather than leave a legacy foundation, and he gave away more than $130 million in 2013 alone. Any money that is left over when he dies, he says, will be quickly distributed through a charitable trust based on terms that he has laid out in his will. See IP's full profile

2. Herbert Sandler

The former Golden West co-CEO formed the Sandler Foundation along with his wife, and co-CEO Marion, in 1991, though the organization made relatively modest contributions until 2006, when the Sandlers’ company was sold to Wachovia. Cashing out at $2.4 billion, they immediately sunk $1.3 billion of that into their foundation, which has now made grants in excess of $650 million, almost all of that coming in the last eight years. The Sandlers have been instrumental in creating a number of organizations, including the Center for American Progress, the Center for Responsible Lending, and ProPublica, each of which have received tens of millions in funding. They also established the national grants program of the American Asthma Foundation. Other major donations include around $85 million to the University of California, San Francisco, mostly for its neuroscience program, another $85 million to the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation, nearly $40 million to the ACLU, and $20 million to Human Rights Watch. Though Marion passed away in 2012, and Herb is no longer ranked as a billionaire by Forbes, he likely still has huge assets and the Sandler Foundation keeps going strong, giving around $50 million annually. See IP's full profile

1. David Gelbaum

In contrast to most Giving Pledge signatories, Gelbaum and his wife Monica stated in their pledge letter that they were taking their pledge after the fact, saying, “We have already given in excess of $1 billion, and are not in a position to give more.” About half this money went to environmental causes, primarily through the Sierra Foundation (a donation that was made anonymously and unmasked by the Los Angeles Times), and the Wildlands Conservancy, which the couple cofounded to conserve land in California. The Gelbaums also created the Iraq Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund to support veterans returning from the wars, giving out nearly a quarter of a billion dollars between 2006 and 2010, gave nearly $100 million to the ACLU, and supported programs designed to help at-risk youth graduate from high school. As for Gelbaum’s remaining wealth, he’s said he lost a lot of it making investments that didn’t pan out, and a good portion of the rest is tied up in Entech Solar, where he’s the co-founder, chairman and CEO. At this point, Gelbaum is even giving away money he doesn’t have yet -- seventy percent of the upside of Entech Solar, including all of David and Monica’s interest in the company, has either already been donated, or been pledged to be donated to groups that support veterans and military families. See IP's full profile

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There are plenty more top finance leaders who could have made the list, but didn’t because we couldn't obtain enough hard information about their giving, their net worth, or both. Others may have simply escaped our notice, which shouldn’t be surprising given the number of finance types that have amassed large fortunes -- particularly those who haven't made the Forbes list, but still have enormous wealth. Compiling lists like this is more of an art than a science.

In addition, of course, there are a great many philanthropists from finance who aren't on the list but are giving at significant levels, all of whom we've written about on the site. They include billionaires like Glenn Dubin, Ray Dalio, Paul Tudor Jones, Seth Klarman, Bruce Kovner, Hank Paulson, Thomas Steyer, David Tepper, and many more. But while some of these people, like Jones, have been notable leaders in philanthropy, and others, like Steyer, have been highly visible, their level of genorosity relative to net worth doesn't appear to match those we have chosen to include. At least not yet. 

James Simons is another notable omission from this list, despite very large scale giving, including endowing a foundation that now has assets over $2 billion. But that largesse is overshadowed by Simons' vastly greater fortune in relative terms. 

Before wrapping up, it's worth digging a bit more into a few more who we strongly suspect should be on the list, but where we just couldn't nail down all the facts.

Andrew Shechtel and C. Frederick Taylor

Shechtel and Taylor were David Gelbaum's partners in a wildly successful hedge fund and were recently unmasked, along with Gelbaum, as the mystery angels that have secretly donated approximately $1.8 billion to a variety of causes, and put billions more into a network of private foundations and trusts set up through enigmatic-sounding limited liability corporations. Shechtel’s main beneficiaries have been organizations researching a cure for Huntington’s Disease, where he has spent some $714 million so far (more than the National Institute of Health is spending on it), with much of the remainder going to Jewish organizations. Where Taylor’s money goes is much less clear -- the vast majority of it, perhaps as much as $850 million so far, gets funneled through the Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program, making it impossible to know how much has actually been distributed, or where it ends up. We do know, however, that he’s been a major supporter of the Landmine Survivors Network, and other human rights causes, and that he’s helped his son start an educational center that exposes underprivileged kids to science, technology, engineering, and math.

How much the men are worth is also a mystery, though each has a split-interest charitable trust that holds nearly $5 billion in assets. Unlike an ordinary charitable trust, however, this can be used for charitable and non-charitable purposes, and there is really no way of telling how much of the money will ultimately end up going toward charity. 

Duncan MacMillan

One of the lesser-known founding partners of Bloomberg, L.P., MacMillan isn’t secretive about his giving, but we didn’t include him in the list, mostly because we’re not sure how much he’s worth. There’s no doubt his fortune is significant -- his four percent stake in Bloomberg L.P. is worth at least $300 million, assuming he hasn’t sold off too much stock. The fact that he’s a Giving Pledge signatory makes us think he’s probably worth at least two to three times that though, but there’s not much way of knowing short of getting him to disclose that information. What we do know is that in the last several years, he’s given away somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million, mostly in health and education, and endowed his foundation with another $75 million in assets. Whether he’s worth $300 million or $1 billion, that’s a reasonably significant chunk, so he’s definitely one to watch.

Carl Icahn

In 2012, Icahn donated an estimated $200 million, mostly to the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, which was good enough to rank him 13th on the Forbes 50 Biggest Givers list that year. Getting a handle on the total scope of Icahn’s giving, however, has been exceptionally difficult. He’s created several different family foundations, but the largest holds just $30 million in assets, and has only distributed about $10 million in grants over the last decade, and the others have been inactive for years. Needless to say, most of his larger gifts are given directly, and often quietly, which can make them a bit more difficult to track. Aside from the $150 million he gave Mount Sinai, he’s given $20 million to create the Carl C. Icahn Laboratory at Princeton’s Institute for Integrated Genomics, and $3 million to create the Icahn Medical Research Foundation.

Most of Icahn’s charitable dollars, however, appear to be directed toward education. Each year since 2006, or perhaps earlier, he has funded ten scholarships at Choate Rosemary Hall, worth $160,000 over a four year period. Even more impressive, however, are the six charter schools named after him -- he’s certainly not their sole benefactor, and we haven't been able to pin down how much he’s given them, but there's no question it's a pretty significant chunk of change. 

Finally, there’s the Icahn House, a 65-unit shelter run by the Children’s Rescue Foundation that helps single women and their families transition out of homelessness. It’s unclear what portion of the operating expenses for the shelter or the foundation are covered by Icahn, but chances are good he’s donating at least a few million per year.

What’s all this add up to? It’s hard to give even a rough estimate, but given the scale of these operations, and the fact that Icahn started receiving awards for his philanthropy all the way back in 1990, it could very well be over $1 billion, though it could be just as easily be two or three times that. Regardless of the number, however, it’s clear that while Icahn is quite generous, he’s still got a long way to go if he’s going to fulfill his commitment to give “substantially all” of his now $24.5 billion in assets to charity, which he says he made privately more than 20 years ago, and made public as part of the Giving Pledge.

Mike Gentilucci is the Tech & Wall St. Editor at Inside Philanthropy. He can be reached at mikeg@insidephilanthropy.com