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Three others including SAP co-founder Dietmar Hopp, mutual fund guru James Stowers and former banking billionaire Herbert Sandler qualified for this top givers club though their donations helped knock them out of the ranks of the world's wealthiest. "I'm surprised there aren't more," says Sandler, "It's a shame there aren't a lot more."
Leading the elite group by almost an order of magnitude is Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who has cut checks worth $28 billion during his lifetime. Most of his money has flowed through his family's Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates' impassioned speeches and brand of high-profile international-scale, hands-on giving--mostly to fight disease and eradicate poverty in developing countries--have influenced many others to accelerate their giving. In Pictures: Billion-Dollar Donors
Among those inspired is Gates' bridge buddy Warren Buffett who announced in June 2006 that, rather than start his own foundation, he'd transfer $30 billion in stock over 20 years into the Gates foundation. Buffett, who has given $6.4 billion so far, has said that the death of his wife Susan and the Gates' early success made him rethink his earlier plan to wait until after his own death to give away money. "How can we do the most good for the most people?" Buffett asked while announcing the historic gift.
Based on our rankings, Buffett is the fourth most generous donor in the world. In second place is hedge fund manager George Soros, who has given out $7.2 billion to such diverse causes as clean-needle clinics in California and scientific research in Russia. Also high on the list is Intel founder Gordon Moore, who has given away a total of $6.8 billion mostly to his and his wife Betty's foundation, which backs environmental causes, including saving rain forests in South America and supporting marine ecosystems.
Scholars of philanthropy have noticed some interesting patterns about these super-philanthropists. Inherited wealth more often stays horded. "People who make their own money, entrepreneurs, are the most generous," says Leslie Lenkowsky, a professor at Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy. "They understand they've been very fortunate, and their good fortune in society depended on the schools they attended and their communities."
All but one of Forbes' billion-dollar givers are self-made, including New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Hong Kong's richest person, Li Ka-shing, who dropped out of school at age 15. Five of these billion-dollar donors made their fortunes in technology including Gates, Moore, Michael Dell and two founders of German software outfit SAP. The only silver spoon among the super generous is Swiss billionaire Stephen Schmidheiny, who donated his company, Grupo Nueva, to a trust that distributes its profits to social causes in Latin America.
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Image: Bill Gates