Philanthropy means “love of humanity.” It is the act of giving. When you volunteer your time or your money, not only are you supporting a good cause, but it makes you feel good - like a contributing member of society. Of course, not everyone has the wealth or means to make large contributions to causes that they find dear to them, but there is a reason why some of the richest people in the world are also some of the biggest contributors to humanitarian efforts. To people who have billions of dollars, money can become meaningless. I assume the train of thought is this: You can’t take money with you when you’re gone, so why not give a lot of it to a worldly cause?
Not only do many of the richest people give away hefty percentages of their fortunes to philanthropic endeavors, but many of them start side, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to aid in their financing and grant making efforts. These people, like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and John D. Rockefeller, become charities in their own right. The catch is, these private foundations are at the whim of their owners. Some causes will simply be seen as more important to a wide range of people.
This list takes the size of a foundation’s assets, what causes they spend their money on, and how much they spend per year into account, to try and name off a few of the most influential philanthropic organizations in the world.
10 Stichting INGKA Foundation
The first on our list of most charitable philanthropic organizations is the Netherlands based Stichtin INGKA Foundation. The foundation was formed in 1982 by the Dutchma Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA. On a monetary basis it is actually the largest (or second largest) charitable organization in the world, with an estimated endowment of $36 billion. However, in 2006, The Economist claimed that the wealthy foundation was not especially generous. This prompted Ingvar Kamprad to go to court to expand the foundation’s goals, to spend more on children in the developing world, and not just architecture and interior design. Because of this changed mission, it cracked our top 10.
9 W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The Michigan-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation was formed way back in 1930, by the breakfast pioneer Will Keith Kellogg. The foundation holds substantial stock in the Kellogg cereal company, though they each have their own board of trustees. The Kellogg Foundation’s $7.3 billion endowment make them the seventh biggest philanthropic foundation in the US.
About 20% of their $243 million of grants and programs in 2005 were spent in southern Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean, and 80% were spent in the United States. The foundation helps fund HealthCorps, childhood obesity, and education. In 2005 the organization funded $243 million in grants and programs.
8 William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
This private foundation was formed in 1966 in Menlo Park, California by Hewlett-Packard co-founder William Redington Hewlett and his wife Flora. This organization is one of the largest grant-giving institutions in the US, awarding an estimate of $353 million in grants and gift payments in 2011. The foundation awards programs in education, global development, the environment, philanthropy, and the performing arts, and, since its inception, has given over $4.5 billion to thousands of organizations around the US, the world, and in particular the San Francisco Bay Area.
In 2001 the foundation gave $400 million to Stanford University, at the time the biggest gift on record to a university. They've also given millions to UC Berkeley, MIT, the Climate Works Foundation, and many others. Their estimated total assets are over $7 billion.
7 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
RWJF is the United States’ biggest philanthropic organization focused solely on health. Based in Princeton, New Jersey, Robert Wood Johnson II (of Johnson & Johnson fame) established the foundation around the time of his his death in 1968, with over 10 million shares of his company’s stock.
The foundation gives grants to various health issues, including Healthcare Reform and access, childhood obesity, training for doctors and nurses, as well as other factors that impact health, like violence, poverty, and access to fresh food. During the 1990s to early 2000s, the foundation played a huge role in cutting tobacco use in the US, spending $446 million toward that end. The foundation has $9.2 billion in assets, and awards $400 million annually on grants.
6 Li Ka Shing Foundation
This foundation was formed in 1980 by the Chinese entrepreneur Li Ka-shing, who grew up witnessing rampant suffering and illness in his home country. The Hong Kong-based organization has an $8.3 billion endowment and is the largest Chinese philanthropy organization. The foundation contributes nearly 90% of its grants in support of education initiatives and medical services in the Greater China area. The foundation has also contributed overseas, to the University of Alberta in Canada, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Oxford, and other institutions.
Almost as important as the contributions, the Li Ka Shing pledged to donate a third of his total assets to philanthropy, and this foundation has also encouraged Asian entrepreneurs to do the same, changing the tradition of passing wealth through lineage.
5 Ford Foundation
Founded by the famous Henry Ford and his son Edsel, this New York-based foundation was created in 1936, with the aim of advancing human welfare. By the early 1970s, the foundation sold its Ford Motor Company stock and now plays no role in the car company. It was also one of the largest and most influential foundations in the world for many years, focusing on promoting democracy, reducing poverty, advancing human rights and knowledge, and Third world development. The foundation’s endowment is nearly $11 billion, and they approved $413 million in grants for the fiscal year 2011.
4 Howard Hughes Medical Institute
This non-profit medical research foundation was formed in Maryland, in 1953, by one of America’s most beloved entrepreneurs and businessmen, Howard Hughes. HHMI spends a massive $825 annual investment on biomedical research. It is the second-wealthiest philanthropic organization in the US and the second most endowed research foundation in the world, with assets of $16.1 billion.
Originally, the institute was viewed as a tax haven for Hughes’ huge personal wealth. It wasn’t till after his death, in 1976, that HHMI changed its mission focus towards genetics, immunology, and molecular biology. The organization was bought by General Motors in 1985, and grew dramatically, enabling it to further fund medical research.
3 Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation
This is a very important foundation, and one of the largest in the world. In 2007, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, announced that he was giving $10 billion to set up an educational foundation in the Middle East. This was (and still is) one of the largest charitable contributions in history.
The focus of the foundation is to bridge the knowledge and education gap between Arab regions and the developed world. The $10 billion foundation has created job growth, increased the standard of education and research, and created leadership programs for the youth in the Middle East. The foundation has also signed memorandums with 28 universities worldwide, assisted with flood relief in Pakistan, and more.
2 Wellcome Trust
The Wellcome Trust is the UK’s largest non-governmental funder of scientific research, and one of the largest in the world, with a massive endowment of $22.1 billion. Established in 1936 in London, by the pharmaceutical magnate Sir Henry Wellcome, the charity originally focused on improving animal and human health. Since then, the trust has aimed at improving health by funding biomedical research, science, the development of drug initiatives, and publishing medical science documentation and histories. It is one of the oldest charities in the UK.
1 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
No single philanthropic foundation has likely done more for humanity (or at least spent as much), as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Seattle-based company was only founded in 2000, but it already has a $38.3 billion endowment as of 2013, making it one of - if not the - largest private charitable foundation in the world. Besides the tech power-couple, Warren Buffett is the third trustee. The Berkshire Hathaway mogul announced in 2006 his pledge to double the foundation’s annual giving by contributing 10 million Berkshire shares spread over multiple years, with his first year's contribution of 500,000 shares being worth about $1.5 billion.
The Gates Foundation offers worldwide financial services for the poor, agricultural and housing development, and global initiatives to combat climate change, to reform education, and to provide disaster relief. It goes without saying, that with such a huge endowment and for all of the humanitarian services it provides, the Gates Foundation is one of the world’s most influential philanthropic endeavors.