Methodology Behind The Forbes List Of America's Top 50 Givers
SHOOK Research is proud to research Forbes’ list of America’s Top 50 Givers, for donations given in 2018. As the biggest role models in the world of philanthropy, we believe this ranking sets the standards for giving—passionate individuals who smartly make contributions to make a difference in our world.
There are many ways in which to count philanthropic dollars. We take the most direct approach, which is also the most research intensive. SHOOK focuses on actual dollars given to philanthropic causes.
While Americans give generously, in many cases in the millions and billions of dollars, not all the money ends up in the hands of the recipients. When wealthy individuals contribute to their foundations, only 5% is typically deployed per year; much of those dollars are expended on overhead, including salaries to family members.
Our Research Process
To compile the annual list of America's Top 50 Givers, we focus on the funds that make it into the hands of the recipients, whether from the individual’s foundation or personal giving. When we embarked on the mission of creating a ranking of America’s biggest givers based on this premise, consultants and industry experts told us it was next to impossible. We found a way, but it’s not easy.
For this year's Top 50 Givers list, SHOOK Research scoured dozens of databases and foundation filings to compile a list of over 50,000 of the biggest individual donations for the year 2018 by U.S. residents. We culled this data down to nearly 2,000 individual givers. In order to evaluate effects on current year giving, we studied significant multi-year pledges by individuals over the past decade, as well as all members of The Forbes' 400 wealthiest individuals who did not appear on the 2018 list. We closely examined these individuals, and narrowed the count to about 500. In the spirit of philanthropy, we respect anonymous giving—including those we uncovered—and do not include in our published data.
Our research process included conversations with the individuals or their representatives, members of their foundations, family members, and recipients of the donations. In-kind donations, such as stock or art, were valued on the date they were given; if a range is provided, we count the low end of the range. Because we only count actual donations given to recipients, only the amount of a pledge that is actually paid in a given year is counted, even if the pledge was made a decade earlier. Since many pledges are conditional, or based on milestones such as matching grants, if no other information is provided, we estimate these payments.
Only donations made while the giver is alive are counted.
In 2016 Howard and Lottie Marcus of San Diego generously donated $400 million from their estate to American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; however, because Lottie died in 2015 (her husband died the prior year), they are ineligible for our ranking.
In some cases, a family foundation may be a grantor and a recipient: Warren Buffett gets credit for his $2.4 billion donation to the Gates Foundation, which gives away his money by the end of the following year. On the other hand, when Bill and Melinda contribute to their foundation, we do not count it until the money leaves the foundation; Buffett's money is not included in the Gates’ giving on our ranking.
To remain completely independent and objective, SHOOK Research does not receive compensation from individual givers, family members, members of foundations, recipients, etc. for its research or ranking purposes. Likewise, Shook Research does not receive compensation in exchange for providing rankings that are published by the media. Our business is researching Wealth Advisors. One of our philanthropic interests includes lending our world-class research capabilities to the world of philanthropy. And with no interest in profiting, we proudly fund our philanthropic research because the role models on our rankings openly share their best practices and inspire others to become more involved philanthropically.
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