Anybody else getting a little tired of hearing how wonderful billionaire philanthropists are?

Every time I read a press release from some business mogul about a big donation they made, it makes me even more grateful for the everyday donors out there — and not just because they don’t send out press releases when they make their gifts.

“Philanthropy is fun and fulfilling.”

Bill Gates

It turns out that our faithful website, email, social and direct mail donors are far more generous than the lions of industry — at least when you compare their giving to their net worth. A recent Washington Post article analyzed the giving of America’s 50 richest individuals in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the gifts are indeed large, they’re less impressive when you consider the net worth of these individuals.

Giving as a Percentage of Net Worth


The Post journalists looked at the billionaires’ gifts as a percentage of their net worth compared to those donors with a median net worth of $97,300. When examined through that lens, these mega gifts just don’t seem so mega:

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos’ $100 million to Feeding America and $25 million to All in WA, equates to a median donor gift of $85.

Bill Gates

Bill Gates through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $300 million, which equates to $283. In Gates’ and the foundation’s defense, this gift will likely be followed with more, so they seem to be thoughtful about where their donations can have the most impact.

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have donated $58 million through their personal giving vehicle, the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, for pandemic relief, which equates to $84. Full disclosure: The Zuckerberg-Chans have pledged to give 99 percent of their wealth through their initiative, which sounds like a solid planned giving prospect.

Steve Ballmer

Steve Ballmer (a former Microsoft exec and current owner of the LA Clippers) and his wife, Connie, have contributed $75 million equating to a $118 from a traditional donor.

Walton Family

And finally, the Walton family, whose company Walmart will be probably be an even more profitable company thanks to the pandemic, has a combined net worth of around $200 billion. Youngest son Jim’s portion of the Walmart Foundation COVID-19 response gift of $35 million equates to just $11.90 — not a bad monthly gift, but this was a one-time effort.

Granted, this doesn’t necessarily represent all of these billionaires’ giving, but I think we can agree that it doesn’t qualify as “giving till it hurts.” But what we’ve seen is so many donors who are doing just that. Some are donating their stimulus checks to support groups on the ground responding in local communities. Others are stepping up to make second and third gifts. Still more are continuing to support cultural, environmental and disease causes, knowing how important it is for these groups to be here now and for the future. 

So here is the call to action folks: Celebrate your donors! They are just as important as Jeff Bezos and Jim Walton and maybe more committed to your cause. How do you do that? Just say thanks:

“I’m retired with a fixed income, but I feel I can part with five dollars hope it will help and God bless your work.”

—online comment with a $5 digital gift to a regional foodbank

  • Read the comments your donors are making now (and share with staff at your organization). Why should only the fundraisers get to be inspired?
  • Update your donation acknowledgment copy to reflect how their gift is making a difference right now.
  • Shout your love for your donors. Thank them on social media — individually if you can or through global posts, or maybe with a video from your CEO.
  • Send a cultivation email that thanks them for their support.
  • Flip the script and feature a “low-net-worth donor” in your e-newsletter.

Stay safe, keep the faith and stay tuned to Charity Dynamics to hear more about how to love your donors and make it easy for them to do want they want to do — support your organization.

About the Author

Dolores has over 25 years experience helping individuals change the world — one donation at a time. As a direct response fundraising consultant, she crafted and implemented numerous strategic fundraising programs for environmental, cultural and educational institutions. As Vice President for Membership at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Dolores was involved in every aspect of the organization’s marketing and fundraising efforts. 

Dolores McDonagh
Principal Consultant

Loved hearing from Dolores and wondering how she can help you celebrate your true donors?