10 Wealthy Americans Who Give the Most Back

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We're all familiar with Gordon Gekko's famous utterance in Wall Street that "Greed — for lack of a better word — is good," but many people forget the truism he invented later in the same speech, when he asserted that it has "marked the upward surge of mankind." The wealthiest and most accomplished Americans achieved their positions with some form of greed. And while we'd be remiss not to admit that greed has also greatly affected the world in negative ways, we acknowledge it can benefit humanity. It's well-documented that charities have greatly benefited from donations from the wealthy. Sure, their motives may vary, but in the end, their money was better used. Here are 10 wealthy Americans with the most charitable hearts — or strategic minds — who've impacted the world outside of business in a positive manner.

  1. Warren Buffett: Buffett and Gates have teamed up in recent years to become a philanthropic force. In 2010, they undertook a campaign persuading dozens of billionaires to donate at least half their fortunes, an estimated $150 billion in total, to good causes. Buffett, the 80-year-old CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, is a self-made man who's famous for his frugality, which has enabled him to become a leading philanthropist. He once said that he didn't believe in dynastic wealth, and that the rich are overly rewarded — certainly not a popular belief among many of his colleagues.
  2. Bill Gates: Still the richest man in the U.S. and the second richest man in the world, Gates spends much of his time these days working on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the largest charities in the world. Around the globe, it pledges to reduce poverty and improve healthcare, and domestically, it strives to improve education. He's given more than $30 billion to his foundation, and according to Forbes, that's why he's no longer the richest person in the world.
  3. George Soros: Friend of Democrats. Enemy of Republicans. Supporter of humanity. Soros, the chairman of Soros Fund Management who's worth more than $14 billion, gave $332 million in 2010 alone, according to philanthropy.com. The biggest beneficiary was Open Society Foundations, an organization he founded that works "to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens." Overall, Open Society Foundations gave $875 million to nonprofit groups, many of which are concerned with human rights issues. Soros has long championed the cause, giving more than $8 billion to it since 1979.
  4. Eli Broad: Broad continues to contribute astounding amounts of money to charitable causes, donating at least $100 million each year, with a focus on education, science and the arts. Much of his work is done through The Broad Foundations and is most visibly seen in downtown Los Angeles, where he's planning to build a museum that'll feature 35,000 square feet of exhibition space. He is also a patron of education — last year, his foundations gave several grants to organizations including the D.C. Public Education Fund, Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University and Inner City Education Foundation. Broad is the founding chairman of KB Home Corporation and SunAmerica and a member of Buffett's and Gate's Giving Pledge.
  5. Michael Bloomberg : Politicians aren't always entirely self-serving. Although the PR that comes with giving hundreds of millions to charity — he gave more than $279 million in 2010 — probably enhances his reputation with New York voters, Bloomberg, now in his third term, thoroughly enjoys giving to the arts, public affairs and human services. Since 2004, he's given more than $1 billion, and that figure is constantly increasing as he finds new organizations to support. Although his generosity is inarguable, some would like to see him do more — like run as a third party candidate in the presidential election in order to weaken the two dominant parties. After all, he spent $90 million of his own money for his last mayoral campaign.
  6. T. Boone Pickens: Oklahoma State University has been the biggest beneficiary of the oilman's fortune. He's given his alma mater almost half a billion dollars, most of which have gone toward athletics to improve the football stadium — Boone Pickens Stadium — and construct an athletic village. More important causes to which he's contributed include the Katrina Relief effort, UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and his own mission to find alternative forms of energy.
  7. Larry Ellison: Oracle, which Ellison co-founded and currently serves as the CEO, experienced a 30 percent increase in shares last year, enabling him to continue to donate parts of his fortune. His Ellison Medical Foundation was the biggest beneficiary as he purposed just more than $45 million for biomedical research. It was started by Ellison in 1997 primarily to further research of the aging process, age-related disabilities and diseases and stem-cell research. As a member of the Giving Pledge, he plans to give at least 90 percent of his wealth to charitable causes.
  8. T. Denny Sanford: Sanford lacks the recognition of the aforementioned billionaires, but he's been every bit as generous over the last few years. The chairman and CEO of United National Corp. is a major contributor to the healthcare field — he gave $400 million to the Sioux Valley Hospitals and Health System in 2007, which prompted its name change to Sanford Health. Last year, he gave it $100 million more for breast cancer research. He also strives to improve children's quality of life by donating to organizations such as the Children's Home Society of South Dakota.
  9. Irwin Jacobs: At the beginning of his career, Jacobs was an Assistant and Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at MIT and Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at University of California, San Diego. Today, UCSD's school of engineering is named after the co-founder and former chairman of Qualcomm. Jacobs appreciates the value of a good education, and that's why he's given more than $100 million to UCSB, $62 million to the American Society for Technion and $31 million to MIT. In 2010, he and his wife Joan, who are members of the Giving Pledge, gave $75 million to the UCSD Health System for a new medical center.
  10. Mark Zuckerberg: The Social Network depicted Zuckerberg as a ruthless conniver, a trait most people assume would make him the perfect CEO. Not long before the film was released, the 26-year-old founder of Facebook showed his generous side by pledging $100 million of the company's stock toward establishing Startup: Education, which benefits schools in Newark, New Jersey. Zuckerberg may not have the same history of big donations as others on this list, but he's off to a great start. Given his youthfulness and the ongoing success of Facebook, the positive impact he could make on the world through charitable contributions is massive.
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