Not long ago, we offered a tutorial on the workings of the Clinton Foundation, an entity surrounded by intense controversy lately. We noted that this complicated organization largely engages in traditional nonprofit work around the world, covering issues like global health and climate change. The Clinton Foundation also works as a matchmaker, securing pledges not for itself, but to foster partnerships to tackle various problems. The foundation, too, is a steward for Bill Clinton's presidential legacy. In 2014, the Clinton Foundation's consolidated expenses totaled nearly $250 million.
Okay, so that's the Clinton Foundation.
Then there's the much smaller Clinton Family Foundation, a traditional private foundation that serves as the vehicle for the couple's personal charitable giving.
This Clinton Foundation, which has neither staff nor offices, has received little attention, but it's interesting to look at for a few reasons. As we've noted before, the Clintons have wide-ranging connections within the nonprofit sector, with ties to some organizations going back decades. Their own giving offers insights into which groups they care about most, along with some inkling as to their hierarchy of causes. (Philanthropy at the family level, remember, tends to be deeply personal.)
Of course, the foundation's records—along with the couple's tax returns—offer a window into the generosity of the Clintons during a period in which, as we often hear, they've made tens of millions of dollars from speaking and books. Critics have often portrayed the Clintons as greedy and/or money-obsessed. In Maureen Dowd's memorable words, "Money-grubbing is always the ugly place with the Clintons."
Given such charges, it's worth taking a closer look at how much of the money the Clintons have earned has gone to charity—especially considering the rising speculation about the actual scope of Donald Trump's philanthropic giving compared to public claims he's made. We've previously analyzed Trump's giving, which appears to have been extremely modest relative to his net worth.
How does Hillary Clinton's philanthropy stack up in comparison with Trump's? And how does the giving by the Clintons compare to that of other wealthy Americans? Also, what are the couple's favorite nonprofits? Let's take a look.
First, the big picture: Between 2007 and 2014, Bill and Hillary Clinton earned a combined total of $141 million. On that income, they paid $43.9 million in taxes, and gave just under $15 million to charity, or 10.8 percent of their total income for that period.
By comparison, an Urban Institute study found that wealthy households with incomes between $5 million and $10 million gave an average of 3.7 percent of their adjusted gross income in 2011. Meanwhile, other studies have found that Americans overall give around 3 percent of the income to charity.
By these numbers, the Clintons are roughly three times more generous than most rich people and ordinary Americans alike. That makes sense, given that they devoted decades of their lives to public service long before they ever made any real money.
Could the Clintons have given more relative to their earnings? Sure, but that goes for most upper income people. It's also worth noting, as an aside, that the Clintons arguably have more reasons to pile up and husband cash than many people, given the expensive blood sport that politics has become, along with their own well-known blind spots. By the time Bill Clinton left office, the couple had accrued as much as $10 million in legal debt. Later, during the drawn-out 2008 presidential primary, the couple personally bankrolled Hillary's campaign when it ran low on cash—to the tune of $13 million, loans that were never repaid.
Anyway, back to the Clintons' charitable giving. Where have the gifts been going? Well, as you might expect, quite a bit of money went to the Clinton Foundation. This fact has drawn criticism from some commentators as yet another sign of the couples' self-centeredness—but this actually makes perfect sense. Many wealthy people who are deeply involved with a specific nonprofit direct a large share of their giving to that group.
If anything, the Clintons actually gave less money to Clinton Foundation through their own foundation than you might expect—or than some accounts have suggested.
Digging into the Clinton Family Foundation's 2014 tax return reveals that they did around $3.8 million in grantmaking and held some $5.3 million in assets. Of total grantmaking in 2014, $1.8 million went to the Clinton Foundation, just under half of total giving.
However, in 2013, the Clintons gave $1.8 million through their personal foundation, with only around a fifth of that money going to the Clinton Foundation, around the same share as in 2012.
So where have all the other gifts gone? To lots of different places, is the short answer. In 2014, the Clintons gave money to 70 nonprofits through their foundation. The picture looked similar the year before, with many grants falling in the range of $5,000 to $25,000.
In many ways, this couple's giving tracks with that of a lot of wealthy people we look at, with money reflecting personal interests, professional relationships and past experiences.
Here's quick rundown of some of the Clinton Family Foundation's recent giving.
The Clintons Support Arts and Culture
For two famous political animals and policy wonks, the Clintons have directed a startling number of gifts to arts and culture. The Clintons have funded places like the School of American Ballet, New York Public Radio, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, and the Africa Center (formerly the Museum for African Art). Much of this giving takes place in either New York City or Arkansas.
Health and Human Services
Less surprising is how the Clinton family has supported places like Arkansas Children’s Hospital Foundation, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Challah for Hunger, New York Presbyterian Fund, Lenox Hill Hospital, and Preventive Medicine Research Institute, a "nonprofit research institute that performs scientific research investigating the effects of diet and lifestyle choices on health and disease." It's worth noting that Bill Clinton has battled heart disease, and had successful bypass surgery last decade. Clinton's doctor, meanwhile, has spoken about addressing chronic disease through changes in lifestyle and diet.
Children and Youth
Hillary Clinton's interest in improving the lives of children is well known, so it's not surprising to find a number of gifts in this area. Six-figure grants have gone to the Children's Defense Fund, a group that Hillary has been involved with for decades. The family also supports youth organizations like KaBOOM!, a "national nonprofit dedicated to ensuring that all kids get a childhood filled with the balanced and active play needed to thrive"; and Thea Foundation, which works in the arts with young people in Arkansas.
Like almost all wealthy donors we look at, the Clintons have not forgotten where they came from. They've supported Wellseley College, Georgetown University, Yale University, Americans for Oxford, George Washington University, Sidwell Friends, and University of Arkansas. The Clintons have attended many of these schools, while Chelsea went to Sidwell.
Policy and Global
As you might expect, global affairs is a big giving interest. The family has recently supported places like Diplomacy Center Foundation, Riley Institute at Furman University, the American Ireland Fund, Global Fairness Initiative, and American Friends of the Peres Institute for Peace, which works in the Middle East. Other grantees in this area bear the names of global luminaries—Nelson Mandela Foundation, Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, and Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation. Of course, the Clinton Foundation is very much focused on problems around the world.
One takeaway from all this is that the Clintons aren't so unusual in their giving. At Inside Philanthropy, we've written about hundreds of major individual donors, and Clinton giving follows patterns we're keenly familiar with. Many donors favor one top organization along with other causes they also care about, and many spread their money around pretty thinly (which is not so smart in our view, but that's a different conversation.) Alma maters are rarely forgotten.
All in all, to our eyes, the Clintons look like pretty standard major donors.