Seven Tech Philanthropists to Watch in 2015

The past year was a big one for tech philanthropy, chock full of major gifts, new initiatives, and recently-minted billionaires preparing to build a charitable legacy. So who should we really be watching in 2015? 

1. Steve Ballmer

Ballmer and his wife Connie are worth $22 billion and have said they're still figuring out their philanthropic game plan. Connie is a well-connected nonprofit veteran, but Steve is newer to this terrain. He recently told Forbes that he's immersing himself in public policy studies in an effort to figure out where Ballmer funds might make a difference. The couple made their biggest donations ever recently with a pair of big gifts to their alma maters, but that giving is just a warm-up to much bigger things to come. (See IP's profile of Ballmer.)

2. Mark Zuckerberg 

No surprise here. The donor-advised fund set up by the Facebook cofounder and his wife Priscilla Chan at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation is now worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.5 billion, and the couple has already made some big gifts. Not deterred by the mixed results from the $100 million gift to improve Newark schools, which we called "Mark Zuckerberg's Vietnam," the Facebook cofounder and his wife appear to be gearing up to tackle education more broadly through their nonprofit, StartUp:Education, starting with a $120 million give to Bay Area schools. But they also made a $5 million gift last year to improve healthcare access, reflecting pediatrician Chan's keen interest in this area. (See Mark and Priscilla'sIP Profiles.)

3. Paul Allen

The Microsoft cofounder really started to expand his giving portfolio in 2014, putting $100 million toward tackling the Ebola crisis in Africa, and another $100 million toward a new initiative for cell research. While funding for Ebola will certainly start to slow as the crisis comes under control, Allen’s leadership here could very well serve as a jumping-off point for a larger involvement in global health, and a template for his organization's involvement in future health crises. The issue we’re really expecting to see a lot more growth in over the coming year, though, is his environmental giving, particularly marine conservation. But you never know what else is coming, given how much Allen has expanded his philanthropic portfolio in recent years, tapping a $17 billion fortune. (See Allen's IP Profile.)

4. Marc Benioff

The founder and his wife Lynne gave big in 2014, including a $100 million gift to Bay Area hospitals (matching their 2010 donation), $5 million to SF schools (nearly doubling 2013’s $2.7 million gift) and $500,000 toward support services for children that have immigrated to the U.S. to escape violence in Central America. Perhaps more important than the Benioffs’ money, however, is Marc's leadership in tech sector philanthropy, particularly when it comes to giving back to the local community. Founded with the idea that it would donate 1 percent of its product, profits, and employee time to charitable causes, has long been a model example of corporate philanthropy, so it made sense that Benioff was the one to spearhead the SF Gives campaign, challenging tech companies to join Salesforce in donating $500,000 to Tipping Point Community’s new $10 million anti-poverty initiative. (See Marc and Lynne's IP Profiles.)

5. Dustin Muskovitz

The Facebook cofounder and his wife Cari Tuna have proven to be very methodical in their philanthropy. Endowing their foundation with $80 million in 2012, they promptly created partnerships with organizations like GiveWell and the Gates Foundation, with the aim of learning best philanthropic practices, and maximizing the impact of their donations. They’re not exactly sitting on their money, though. They’ve already given away close to $10 million, mostly in large chunks, and are gradually increasing the rate at which it flows out the door. They've placed a major focus on global health and development, and are proponents of getting money directly into the hands of those who need it most. They place a high value on philanthropic transparency and data sharing as well, giving one the sense that they’re trying to create a model for the next generation of philanthropists. And with a net worth now reaching $8.3 billion, this is just the beginning. (See Dustin and Cari's IP Profiles.)

6. Nick & Jill Woodman

After becoming billionaires as a result of their company’s IPO, the GoPro founders wasted little time creating a foundation. So little time, in fact, that they had to get special clearance to transfer nearly $500 million in stock to a donor-advised fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation; they created a minor panic among their shareholders when they made the announcement. At this stage, we’re mostly just guessing what the money will be used to support, but if they were that eager to put a sizeable chunk of their newfound wealth into a charitable fund, we’re betting that they’re also pretty eager to start giving it away. 

7. Larry Page

Google's cofounder and CEO has stashed over a half billion in a foundation, and also moved money from the foundation into donor-advised funds, making it hard to know what he's up to. But Page made his biggest public gift yet last year with a $15 million outlay to contain Ebola. Google also gave big to fight Ebola and the company has been expanding its philanthropy in different ways under Page's leadership, from fighting poverty in the Bay Area to bankrolling academic research. Will 2015 be the year that Page emerges as a major philanthropist? Maybe. He certainly has the money, with a fortune that stands at $29 billion. (See IP's profile of Page.)