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What Can We Learn About How Much the Wealthy Give?

                  Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have generated quite the buzz by encouraging billionaires to have 50% of their wealth to charity.  In July, the Chronicle of Philanthropy provided an interest report on the habits of the wealthy in their giving.

                  From 1992 to 2007, America’s top 400 earners reported giving a low of 3.5% to a high of 10.8% of their income in any one single year.  In general, the top  400 earners hovered around the 8% mark in terms of giving a percentage of their income.  The 8% mark compares to the 2.1% median giving percentage for all Americans. 

So on average the top 400 earners give more of their income as a percentage.   While the 8% does not equate to the 10% tithe that most churches advance, it is above the median nonetheless. 

On the other hand, the share of net worth donated by America’s billionaires differs markedly.   For instance in 2009, the following billionaires reported their percentage of giving as follows:

Stanley F. and Fiona Druckenmiller                  20.14%

T. Denny Sanford                                                      6.10%

Julian H. Jr. and Josie Robertson                                    3.00%

Jon L. Stryker                                                                        2.85%

Eli and Edythe Broad                                                      1.95%


That wide variance is consistent throughout the billionaires who reported their percentages. 


                  What do we learn about these numbers?  It’s easier to give a percentage of one’s income but far harder to give out of one’s net worth.


                  On the other hand, it is an inevitable fact of life that all the billionaires on the list will suffer the same fate.  Should we not encourage all to give for that greater end and to store up where moth and rust do not consume?

About Bill High

Bill is CEO of the Signatry: A Global Christian Foundation. He works with families, individual givers, and financial advisers to share the foundation’s message regarding biblical generosity and charitable giving. » Learn More. He is the co-author with David Green of Giving It All Away and Getting It All Back Again: The Way of Living Generously.

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