Women are a fast-rising force in philanthropy. More women are making their own fortunes than ever before and women are also exercising growing leadership in family philanthropy, shaping how wealth made by spouses or earlier generations is given away. Women are also emerging as the top networkers and catalysts in modern philanthropy, bringing people together to mobilize huge resources for different causes.
Too often, though, the quiet power of women philanthropic leaders is overlooked. Again and again, famous rich men are afforded the lion's share of the credit for big gifts or initiatives actually masterminded by their wives or daughters. Meanwhile, some of the most influential networkers in philanthropy operate well outside the limelight.
That has to change—not just because it's unfair, but because to understand today's big philanthropy, you need to know the women who are so often behind the new mega giving. That's why we developed this list. Many of those on it aren't just the most powerful women in philanthropy. They are the most powerful people, period.
Jump straight into the top power players below, or keep reading to see the logic behind the list.
3. PATRICIA HARRIS
4. MARILYN SIMONS
5. SUSAN DELL
6. PAM OMIDYAR
7. RISA LAVIZZO-MOUREY
8. JENNIFER BUFFETT
9. CAROL LARSON
10. LAURENE POWELL JOBS
11. LAURA ARRILLAGA-ANDREESSEN
12. LAURA ARNOLD
13. PRISCILLA CHAN
14. MARGARET CARGILL
15. CATHY CATALYST
The role of women in philanthropy is a hot topic right now, but we developed this list because our own research and reporting keeps bringing us to the door of powerful women philanthropists. That's been true in our coverage of the tech sector, where women are key leaders in the new outsized philanthropy; on Wall Street, where spouses are often doing the hands-on giving; and in our coverage of the foundation world, with notable recent appointments of women to top jobs.
Most striking is the role of women in managing family giving. It's hardly news that women are deeply involved in family philanthropy, but a growing pile of both anecdotal evidence and empirical research demonstrates the scope of this influence. A 2011 report by the Women's Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy found that nearly all high-net worth couples who are engaged in philanthropy make their giving decisions jointly, and that finding certainly tracks with our reporting. If anything, women seem to be the dominant players in large-scale family philanthropy. Often, wives are the ones with the time and interest to tackle serious giving while their husbands are still busy running companies.
How We Made the List
Being a philanthropist is not like being a baseball player, where your performance can be statistically quantified down to the last swing. Philanthropy is still more of an art than a science (whatever some may say), and there are a lot of subjective factors involved in assessing funders. We have chosen to focus on power because it's metric that we can get our arms around. I'll get to our definition of power in a moment, after offering a few caveats about this venture.
First, we're the first to say that lists like this are gimmicky, and need to be taken with a grain of salt. Can we really say with certitude who should be number six on the list as opposed to number five? Of course not, and some readers could surely argue for different names, rearranging the names we chose, or just not making a list at all. Still, we think this exercise is useful in how it spotlights, and gauges, key women doing big things in philanthropy—and also how it illuminates the fast changing terrain of giving as new fortunes are harnessed to large-scale philanthropy.
Second, we know that funding networks are hugely important in philanthropy today, and that women who bring people together and mobilize resources have immense power. As a result, just focusing on the direct control and deployment of money misses a crucial part of the story of women's philanthropy—maybe even the most important part. As Jacki Zehner, the CEO of Women Moving Millions told me, philanthropy is in the midst of "a shift to networking, knowledge sharing, and collaborating... No one person can solve problems." We agree. But we found ourselves daunted by the challenge of identifying the most powerful network leaders or catalysts of philanthropic action, and so we have set that task aside for a later time.
Third, we know that some mega donors operate anonymously, wielding immense power in certain areas but leaving no fingerprints. So there may well be people who should be on this list, but aren't—or people who should be higher on the list than they are.
Fourth, by putting someone on this list we are not saying we like what they're doing or that their giving is having a positive impact. We're only saying that they have lots of power.
How We Define Power
To make the list, a funder needs to meet one or more of the following criteria: (A) She directly, or jointly, controls a boatload of money, or strongly influences how a huge fortune is used; (B) She's actively deploying that money for philanthropic ends in a hands-on way; and (C) She's having an impact with her philanthropy, either directly or through her ideas and the example she sets, or both. Because impact is so hard to measure, our definition of power puts more weight on the control and deployment of wealth.
This criteria excludes a number of obvious suspects from the list. There are only two presidents of legacy foundations here, because such executives typically operate with major restraints, sharing power with powerful boards and with large, seasoned staffs. What's more, as Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy told me, "It’s sobering that, while there are a substantial number of women CEOs of U.S. foundations among the largest 100, their numbers get sparser as the foundations get larger."
You also won't find any celebrities here, like Angelina Jolie, Oprah Winfrey or Lady Gaga. There's no disputing the power these figures can have in mobilizing resources and public opinion behind causes, but that power falls into the fuzzier sphere of networking and catalyzing that we've chosen to sidestep for now.
Finally, there are no gazillionairesses here who haven't gotten around to shoveling big bucks out the door. Jacqueline Mars may be the third richest woman in America, but her giving is either highly classified or barely extant. We bet Abigail Johnson will give big down the line (what else can you do with $17 billion?), but it isn't happening yet that we know of. If you're not giving big, you're not on this list no matter how rich you are.
Why Power Matters in Philanthropy
Why the focus on power, anyway? Isn't effectiveness the hot thing these days? Definitely, but power matters too.
For starters, power players influence who's doing what in the nonprofit sector—and sometimes the public sector, too. For instance, when the Gateses ask educators to "jump" because they're fixated with some new silver bullet, the response is often "how high?" Never mind if, say, herding students into smaller schools turns out to be a bad idea later.
Most nonprofit organizations—as well as many scholars, scientists, artists, and so on—have no choice but to follow the money. And if a big philanthropist shovels out a pile of cash to tackle X, a whole bunch of grantseekers will bend themselves into pretzels to prove they've been thinking about X since birth. In that way, big funders shape the priorities of civil society. What's in fashion, what's out, who can get resources, who can't—that constitutes a sheer impact that is also the easiest to measure, regardless of the actual outcomes brought about by funding.
A funder's capacity matters here for obvious reasons. If some little family foundation decides to focus on equestrian therapy, so what? If Jacqueline Mars decides that her entire fortune will be devoted to researching and promoting equestrian therapy, and she wants to spread the money widely, a large cavalry of practitioners and scholars will eventually be working on equestrian therapy. And, therefore, not working on other stuff.
Knowing who has real power in philanthropy also matters to those seeking funding. This will be obvious to anyone who has ever tried to raise money from a friend who works at, or even runs, a legacy foundation, only to be told, Sorry, we don't fund that kind of thing. There's always an obstacle—the board or the strategic plan or "long-time priorities," blah, blah, blah.
By contrast, make the right pitch to a true power player in philanthropy and they might decide they do fund that kind of thing, starting now. Since the dream of so many NGO leaders and fundraisers is to get the ear of those with giving power, it's worth trying to measure who has such power.
So that's the thinking behind this list: how we measure power, and why it's important. If something seems wrong with the list or the criteria, drop me a line or chime in on the comments section below, and maybe next time we'll do things differently. Heck, we might even revise this list if you make a strong enough case. That's the beauty of the Internet.
Okay, enough preliminaries. Here are the 15 most powerful women in U.S. philanthropy.
1. MELINDA GATES
No surprises here. It's not just that she has substantial influence over the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—and has from the start, back when Bill was still super-busy with Microsoft. Or that the foundation has so much money, with a $40 billion endowment and $3.4 billion in annual giving in 2012 (the most recent year we have data for). Or that Melinda is also a major leader in the world of philanthropy and global development writ large. (See IP's profile of Gates.) It's also that she and her husband have another $72 billion waiting in the wings. That latent giving capacity is the really interesting story here, at least to us. I wrote a post a few weeks ago wondering why the Gateses weren't giving away more money, faster. My favorite theory is that they'd rather keep that money working so their fortune will get bigger. I wrote, "Could we imagine Bill and Melinda Gates sitting on $150 billion a decade or two from now? Yes, we could." And the giving choices that Melinda is shaping today—for instance, her leadership in pushing the foundation into reproductive health—will have a big impact on how even bigger money gets spent later. Melinda Gates's unmatched power in philanthropy among women (or maybe anyone) comes from what she is doing now, but also what she is building long-term.
2. SUSAN BUFFETT
The low profile daughter of Warren Buffett may not seem like an obvious choice for the number two slot, but hear me out. In essence, Susie Buffett controls not one, but two giant foundations. She's the chair of the secretive Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation (named after her late mother), which ranked among the five biggest foundations by giving in 2012, giving out $367 million. She has no real board looking over her shoulder at STBF, and the staff is pretty minimal. (See IP's look inside STBF.) That's a recipe for real power. We'd add that STBF's chief focus—empowering women to control their sexuality, health, and lives—strikes us as among the top areas where philanthropy is likely to effect seismic change in the 21st century. But Susie Buffett also controls a second foundation, her own Sherwood Foundation, which gave out $67 million in 2012. Moreover, these two foundations are receiving major new infusions of funds from Warren that may ultimately total up to $4 billion to each, at least based on the current value of Berkshire Hathaway stock. Judging by how STBF spends money and how Sherwood has also been spending, Buffett is likely to be focused on putting the new money into play, rather than abiding by anything like normal foundation payout levels. My bet is that when we finally get the 2013 financial data, we'll see that the two foundations controlled by Susie Buffett gave away nearly as much money as the Ford Foundation—if not more.
3. PATRICIA HARRIS
We predicted a while ago that Michael Bloomberg will soon be giving away more money every year than anyone besides Bill and Melinda Gates. If Patricia Harris, the head of Bloomberg Philanthropies, was merely the implementer of the former mayor's grand philanthropic vision, as some suggest, she wouldn't even be on the list, much less number three. But Harris is too deeply enmeshed in the Bloomberg philanthropic universe to play so small a role in moving such a large amount of money. Harris has been working closely with Bloomberg for twenty years, including 12 years as his top aide at City Hall, and her influence on his thinking is legendary. Bloomberg raised eyebrows in 2010 when he appointed Harris as chair and CEO of Bloomberg Philanthropies, even as she worked at City Hall. She is said to be the person who first interested the wonky Bloomberg in the arts and philanthropy, and she worked closely with him to ramp up his giving while he was still in office. Since 2010, Harris has led the foundation's push to staff up and get ready for bigger giving. In 2013, Bloomberg gave away $452 million, almost as much as the Ford Foundation. That figure will be higher this year—and keep going up. Harris is at the center of it all.
4. MARILYN SIMONS
She keeps a low profile, but Marilyn Simons makes this list for good reasons: She built and runs the Simons Foundation, which in 2012 gave away $185.5 million, and likely even more in 2013. It makes sense that the Simons Foundation keeps increasing its giving, and seems on its way to joining the very top tier of funders: Hedge fund whiz James Simons built a $12 billion fortune through Renaissance Technologies, and that mountain of money is still growing fast. The Simonses have signed the Giving Pledge, so they need to move cash out the door by the truckload. And Marilyn is no mere advisor here; she has been the main architect of the couple's philanthropy since 1994. As the president of a family foundation with minimal staff and just three board members beyond the Simonses, Marilyn has the kind of latitude that presidents of legacy foundations can only dream of. (See IP's profile of Simons.) What's more, the Simons Foundation is a huge fish in the relatively small pond of basic science and math funding, where it has made some of its biggest investments. It's also a giant in the red hot area of autism research (where Simons is particularly active in guiding the foundation), a big player in life sciences, and is expanding its footprint in science education. To the extent that science both changes how we live and affects America's economic fortunes, the Simons Foundation is turning into a dominant player in an all-important arena. With a PhD in economics, and 25 years experience in the nonprofit sector, Marilyn Simons has the intellectual gravitas to be a top philanthropy leader in a sophisticated funding space.
5. SUSAN DELL
Again, maybe not an obvious choice for the very top tier, but follow the logic chain here. Michael Dell is the 25th richest person in America, worth $15.9 billion, and he and Susan are already way into philanthropy—giving away nearly $1 billion to date. The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation is not far behind, say, the Rockefeller Foundation in terms of annual giving. And the level of grantmaking is likely to grow considerably in coming years. It really has to, if the Dells want to make a dent in spending a decent chunk of their fortune while they're still living. Susan, by most accounts, plays a big role in the couple's philanthropy. As we wrote in our IP profile of her, "in many ways the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation is her baby." That makes sense, given that her husband still has his day job running a Fortune 100 company. The issues and approach of the Dells' giving also make them influential. They're focused on the same three big areas as the Gateses: health, development, and education. And they're fixated on results-oriented grantmaking in a way that's exceptional, even at a moment when everybody says that. So with Susan Dell, we're talking very deep pockets, close involvement, wide latitude, cutting-edge methodology (like it or not), and giving that's right at the center of contemporary Big Philanthropy.
6. PAM OMIDYAR
A more usual suspect, Pam Omidyar definitely belongs high on this list because she checks all of our boxes: she jointly controls one of the largest U.S. fortunes (eBay founder Pierre Omidyar clocks in at 47 on the Forbes 400 with $8.5 billion), the Omidyars are giving away a lot money, with bigger giving likely to come, and they've been quite innovative in their giving—bringing market-based approaches into the mainstream of philanthropy—whatever you might think of such strategies. And Pam's personal role and influence are pretty much beyond dispute. (See IP's profile.) Beginning in 2000, she either founded or cofounded all four of her and her husband's organizations that focus on philanthropic work. And she's been extremely visible in philanthropic and NGO circles. Enough said about this major power player in philanthropy.
7. RISA LAVIZZO-MOUREY
Healthcare is the top domestic policy issue in the U.S. right now, and the Robert Johnson Foundation is one of the most influential institutions in this arena, giving out nearly $300 million a year. As RWJF's president, Lavizzo-Mourey has led the foundation to the very center of the fight over the Affordable Care Act, making herself a power player in health policy. She leads a top-flight staff that is tackling all the toughest challenges in health, including the immediate imperative to get people enrolled in the new healthcare exchanges and long-term challenges like reducing obesity and creating a "culture of health." RWJF under Lavizzo-Mourey's leadership has also prioritized reducing racial disparities in healthcare policy. Now, because Lavizzo-Mourey reports to a board of 14 heavy-hitters, and delegates most actual grantmaking to expert team directors, she doesn't have the clear-cut power of most other people on this list. But she's one of only two legacy foundation presidents on the list because of the role that RWJF and she herself play in the all-important battle to improve America's health.
8. JENNIFER BUFFETT
The NoVo Foundation that Jennifer Buffett leads may not rank among the largest foundations in the U.S., but it is one of the biggest family foundations led by a woman and it gives at a very substantial level: $56.7 million in grants in 2012, placing it in the 100 largest foundations by giving. And it's only up from there, given that Warren Buffett has pledged shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock to NoVo that will ultimately total several billion dollars. Jennifer Buffett is the president and co-chair of NoVo, while her husband Peter, Warren's son, is the foundation's co-chair. Needless to say, there's no herd of pesky trustees looking over Jennifer's shoulder. NoVo's board consists of just one outsider other than Peter and Jennifer. Staff is minimal, too. But it's not just her resources and latitude that make Jennifer Buffett an obvious candidate for this list: She's also been a smart and innovative funder, leading NoVo into issues where its resources could make a big difference, like violence against girls and women, sex trafficking, and Social and Emotional Learning, an education approach that stands in refreshing contrast to the business-like focus on metrics and accountability that's so fashionable in philanthropy. Her key role in creating and funding the Girl Effect stands as a major accomplishment. What's more, the Buffetts have had a keen focus on systemic change and building the nonprofits they work with, which is something we wish we saw more of among foundations. Instead of staffing up the foundation and micro-managing, NoVo under Jennifer's leadership has tended to support grantees while letting them lead. Amen to that.
9. CAROL LARSON
The David and Lucille Packard Foundation is a giant, giving out $253 million in 2012. And it's a giant that has been closely molded and guided by Carol Larson, who has been a central figure at the foundation since 1995 and its president since 2004. Larson was director of programs at Packard during the late 1990s, as it digested huge new wealth from the Packards' estate and expanded its agenda and giving. She continued to advance in the foundation until she was the obvious choice to be president. Packard's biggest move since Larson took over has been a historic $500 million commitment to mitigating climate change, funding that has helped transform the climate sector. In savvy fashion, Packard's own climate work has focused heavily on the crucial niche of reducing greenhouse gases from agriculture. To be sure, Larson shares power with 14 board members—a board whose make-up underscores Packard's status as a family foundation in key respects. And she also shares power with Packard's large and impressive professional staff. So it's hard to pinpoint who really is calling the shots at Packard. Still, we can't think of another top legacy foundation that has been so dominated by a woman executive.
10. LAURENE POWELL JOBS
With an $11.7 billion fortune and a long track record of nonprofit involvements, what's the widow of Steve Jobs doing way down here on the list? Maybe she can tell us. Or, more precisely, tell us what she's doing with her money, because right now, we can't get a fix on the scope of her giving. She has yet to create a big new foundation and seems to be channeling her good works through the Emerson Collective, a funky outfit that isn't even a nonprofit. It's an LLC, so good luck trying to follow that money. She's also reputed to give a lot of money anonymously, which is frustrating to list-makers of the world like us. Is Laurene Powell Jobs singlehandedly bankrolling some giant new initiative that could change America or the world? Maybe, but we have no way of knowing. Still, we suspect something big is afoot with all the money simply because (A) there's so much of it; and (B) Laurene Powell Jobs cares deeply about a number of issues, starting with education but extending to environment, immigration reform, and more. (See IP's profile.) So we're tossing her in here at number 10, although when the veil finally rises on her giving, she could move far higher on the list—or lower.
11. LAURA ARRILLAGA-ANDREESSEN
This is the only person on the list who isn't engaged in large-scale giving, but who definitely has real power. Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen has emerged as a key thought leader in philanthropy, with a book, Giving 2.0, and a long track record of fostering innovative approaches to philanthropy. (See IP's profile.) She thinks big and outside the box about how to mobilize major resources through new ways of giving and empower a broader range of people to engage in philanthropy. What's more, she has the ear of lots of tech types in Silicon Valley who are just getting started in their giving. That's big. And there's more: She and her husband Marc Andreessen have a sizeable fortune and their own foundation. Arrillaga-Andreessen is also one of only four board members of her father's foundation (John Arrillaga), which may get the bulk of his $1.8 billion fortune one day.
12. LAURA ARNOLD
This is another pretty obvious choice. Arnold is half of one of the more notable young philanthropy power couples of recent times: She and John Arnold are tapping a $2.9 billion hedge fund fortune to give big on K-12 education, criminal justice, science, and public accountability. They're moving the money with a super lean staff and, as far we can see, they aren't especially interested in leaving a big foundation behind when they die—which, by the way, won't be for many years, since they are both 40 or under (and look even younger). Laura Arnold makes the list because she and her husband John work closely as a team when it comes to their large-scale philanthropy, she takes a hands-on role at their foundation, and because in some cases, it appears Laura is the main driver in their giving. (See IP's profile.)
13. PRISCILLA CHAN
For all we know, Mark Zuckerberg's wife belongs much further up the list, but information is scarce on Priscilla Chan's role in the couple's mega philanthropy. So we'll just tack her near the end here. What we do know is that Priscilla and Mark gave nearly $1 billion to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation last year, making them the biggest individual donors of 2013. (See IP's profile of Chan.) That gift came on top of $500 million worth of Facebook stock that Zuckerberg gave to SVCF in 2012. Beyond these big numbers, though, the Zuckerberg/Chan philanthropic partnership is hard to penetrate. Clearly, Priscilla Chan, a pediatrician with no nonprofit experience who has avoided the media spotlight, is not interested in playing the hands-on role of some philanthropic spouses. There is no Zuckerberg Family Foundation, although the couple directs a fund at SVCF. Notably, one of the first gifts they made from the fund in 2014 was $5 million to a health center serving low-income communities (see IP's story). Chan referred to her experience as a doctor in explaining the gift. So if health does emerge as a central focus, it will probably be because of Chan's influence.
14. MARGARET CARGILL
Yes, I know: This heiress to the mighty Cargill fortune died in 2006. But Margaret Cargill is on the list because it's only recently that her full fortune—over $5 billion—has been harnessed to philanthropic ends. And while Cargill is no longer living, her money is being given away according to a blueprint that she laid out before she died. The two people who helped her develop that blueprint, Christine Morse and Paul Busch, both of whom she worked with closely for years, are now running Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies. You can't do much better than that in terms of post-mortem power: Your confidantes executing your wishes after you're gone. What's more, over half the money she left behind went to the Anne Ray Charitable Trust, a support organization with designated grantees and limited ability to redirect funds in a different direction. Clever, right? The umbrella operation for all Cargill's giving, Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, is a confusing entity, made up of one foundation and two support organizations. But it amounts to one of the biggest piles of money on the philanthropic scene—all being deployed according to Margaret Cargill's wishes. (See our primer on Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies.)
15. CATHY CATALYST
Forgive us for being cute, but we want to close the list with a reminder that power in philanthropy isn't just about controlling and deploying big resources; it's also about catalyzing action and bringing people together to mobilize resources collectively. Women have been the most notable catalysts and networkers in philanthropy, often for innovative work on gender, whether its Eve Ensler raising tens of millions of dollars through V-Day to fight violence against women; Helen Hunt, who created Women Moving Millions, a network that has inspired nearly $300 million in giving to advance women and girls; Barbara Dobkin, an activist donor in progressive Jewish and women's philanthropy; Angelina Jolie, who has helped raise many millions for different causes and organizations; and the list could go on. Here at Inside Philanthropy, we're watching the power networkers closely and will be writing a lot about them in the coming year.
Other Powerful Women, and Why They're Not on the List
Beyond top women catalyzing giving and building networks, there are obviously a lot of other powerful women in philanthropy who could be on this list but aren't. And we have our reasons for leaving them off. In earlier times, a woman president of the Rockefeller Foundation, like Judith Rodin, would automatically be on a list like this. But over 35 foundations gave out more money in 2012 than the Rockefeller Foundation and its giving relative to other funders will continue to shrink over time. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation gave out over twice as much as Rockefeller in 2012, but its new woman president, La June Montgomery Tabron, has been in the top job there for less than two months. (Likewise, Susan Desmond-Hellmann, the newly named CEO of the Gates Foundation, doesn't start her job till May.)
Jean Case might be another logical candidate for this list, as the president of the Case Foundation and both an innovative philanthropist and a very visible leader in the nonprofit sector. (See IP's profile of Case.) But ultimately the money here (that we can see) is small: The Case Foundation spent less than $4 million in 2012. Kate Wolford at the McKnight Foundation is an impressive leader who's been there for nearly eight years, and McKnight gave out $85 million in 2012. But it's a fairly regional family foundation and Wolford is not part of the family. Joan Weill is a well-known power player in New York City philanthropy and beyond, who's taken the lead in giving away the fortune her husband, Sandy, made in finance. (See IP's profile of Weill.) But here again, the annual numbers are relatively small despite some visible mega gifts.
Emerging Power Players We're Watching
We're pretty sure that this list will look quite different in a few years, and we can tell you now who might be on it. One person is Cari Tuna, a former Wall Street Journal reporter married to Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz, who is worth $5.2 billion and has said that he wants to give all that money away in his lifetime. Tuna runs the couple's foundation, Good Ventures, which is very new but already off to an impressive start, mainly funding global development, global health, and education. (See IP's profile of Tuna.) Katherine Lorenz could be on the list down the line, as a thoughtful youngish leader in philanthropy and the president of the George and Cynthia Mitchell Foundation, which just received a $750 million bequest from George Mitchell's estate. Oprah Winfrey will be on the list when she starts giving away large chunks of her multi-billion dollar fortune.
Sara Blakely is a name we hear often. She's the fortysomething billionaire founder of Spanx, and was the first woman to sign the Giving Pledge. She's a big cheerleader for giving, and also has a foundation, although her actual giving remains modest in comparison to other people we're looking at. Tory Burch falls into a similar category. This billionaire, who made her fortune in fashion, has been a big advocate of philanthropy, and has honed in on promoting women's entrepreneurship and financial empowerment—definitely a cutting edge cause. Billionaire tech executive Meg Whitman has done a fair amount of giving, including a big $10 million gift to Teach for America, but seems still too busy with her career to focus heavily on philanthropy. (See IP's profile of Whitman.) Penny Pritzker has been very active in philanthropy, both through her family's giving and a foundation she set up with her husband. But this billionaire is currently pretty busy being Commerce Secretary in Washington. One other name we're betting will be on this list in a few years is Connie Snyder Ballmer, the wife of Steve Ballmer who is worth $18 billion. As I wrote recently, the Ballmers are likely to soon turn to big philanthropy with Steve leaving Microsoft, and Connie is likely to play a huge role, given her nonprofit experience.
And the Billioniare Women We Scratch Our Heads About
Finally, we should say that there are some women who are just big question marks for us. There are around 15 women in America who are worth more than $3 billion, and many of them have virtually no philanthropic footprint—either because they give anonymously or only on a modest level. Others have signaled a keen interest in philanthropy, but still haven't made their big move. First and foremost here is Alice Walton, who we're deeply intrigued by, and not just because she's worth $33.5 billion. Walton has shown great ambition in arts philanthropy with Crystal Bridges, but the cost of that new art museum still amounts to spare change for her. So what will happen to the rest of her fortune? My own theory is that Walton will use Crystal Bridges as a base to build a foundation akin to the J. Paul Getty Trust, which both runs two museums and engages in extensive grantmaking and other activities. Stay tuned.
Abigail Johnson, the sixth richest woman in the U.S., is another mystery to us, but she's clearly involved in philanthropy, sitting on the boards of both her father's foundation and the Fidelity Foundation. We'd be fascinated to know what causes really rock her world, because those are some deep pockets. As for Jacqueline Mars, good luck trying to follow her giving, which appears very limited. Thank goodness we have the estate tax!