According to Business Week's annual ranking of the fifty most generous philanthropists, leading givers are spending time and money to ensure that their philanthropy makes a difference during their lifetimes, rather than leaving a large legacy to their children or a foundation.
To make the list this year, philanthropists had to have given or pledged $95 million over the past five years — $30 million more than last year. William H. Gates III and his wife Melinda lead the list and are emblematic of the new paradigm. Along with Michael and Susan Dell, PeopleSoft co-founder David Duffield and his wife Cheryl, former eBay president Jeffrey S. Skoll, and Charles F. Feeney, whose $1.6 billion stake in a duty-free retail business created the Atlantic Philanthropies, they are showing how givers can work to make their mark now, or "giving while living," as Feeney calls it.
In addition to attacking some of this country's and the world's most intractable problems, from poverty to public school reform to HIV/AIDS, their philanthropy is also helping to reinforce an unraveling safety net. And their insistence on measurable results, efficiency, and transparency — for bringing a businesslike rigor to philanthropy — is spreading to every corner of the nonprofit sector.
"Michael and I want to direct the majority of our funds during our lifetime to ensure that they are deployed in ways that are the most effective," says Susan Dell, who with her husband is No. 6 in the Business Week ranking. There is also the compelling logic of attacking problems now rather than later. "You just never know how much time you are going to have," says Skoll. The thirty-eight-year-old Skoll recently doubled the size of his foundation's endowment and announced that he planned to accelerate its grantmaking, which is focused on support for social entrepreneurship.
Feeney, who for many years kept his giving anonymous, announced in July that Atlantic Philanthropies planned to spend itself out over the next twelve to fifteen years, giving away approximately $350 million annually in four areas: disadvantaged children, aging, health, and human rights.
"In years past, everybody assumed foundations would go on for multiple generations," said Charles W. Collier, Harvard University's senior philanthropic adviser, "Today, I think the trend is definitely toward giving more in their lifetime."