The richest person in the world would love to have your help to give them their billions of dollars.
One of the first things Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of Tesla, did as he climbed to the top of American capitalism last week was to seek advice on how to climb the ranks of philanthropy. Now that he has more money than anyone on the planet, Musk is likely to come under much more scrutiny than ever before for how he gives it – or not.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, whom Musk replaced from the front row, has attracted more and more negative attention for his philanthropy as he gets richer and richer, and Musk will likely encounter a similar dynamic. Bezos took to Twitter for advice as this review intensified, and Musk is following the same guide.
Btw, critical comments are always highly appreciated, as well as ways to donate money that really make a difference (way harder than it looks)
– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 8, 2021
Musk’s tweet reveals two truths: He’s certainly right that billionaire philanthropy is difficult – many of his fellow tech titans have struggled to give their money away effectively. But it’s also true that many billionaires have refused to donate large amounts of their money – partly out of fear of making a difference to make a difference – and it describes Musk’s own abandonment so far. Musk has donated relatively small amounts of his wealth, a story that his tweet and rise to top billionaire rank highlight.
Musk’s primary charitable vehicle has been the Musk Foundation, which he founded in 2002. In the age of philanthropic staging, the Musk Foundation is almost entertaining in its simplicity and yet is surprisingly opaque: the website Integer contains 33 words on a plain text Yahoo page with no links, staff information, or contact forms (“I wrote this masterpiece myself in HTML 1.0,” Musk said at one point.) All that is included are five bullet points describing the fields supported by the foundation.
Musk also signed the Giving Pledge – the pledge to give at least half of his money to charity – but he is one of his few signatories who does not make their letter of pledge publicly available on the site. Program web.
The main place Musk has been more talkative, naturally, is on Twitter, where he periodically reveals information about his philanthropic thinking to Tesla fans begging him for gifts or details. Sometimes he will promise to reward money from his foundation to followers who tweet him.
Until 2016, Musk gave relatively little money to his foundation which then gave little to nonprofits, according to the tax returns that foundations must file. Then, in May 2016, Musk donated $ 250 million in Tesla shares to his foundation, but that money also took a long time to come out. Thus, during the 16-year period between the founding of the foundation in 2002 and mid-2018, the last recorded year, philanthropy gave only about $ 25 million directly to nonprofit groups, including $ 10 million to support OpenAI, a non-profit organization. founded by Musk and entrepreneur Sam Altman.
After 2016, the foundation funneled approximately $ 50 million to Donor Advised Funds (DAF), which are separate philanthropic vehicles that do not disclose their donations and also allow foundations to bypass the 5% obligation to send. of their assets elsewhere each year. A spokesperson for Musk told Forbes last year that these CFOs donated a total of $ 75 million in their lifetime to nonprofits.
That $ 75 million, combined with the $ 25 million in direct donations from his foundation through 2018, means Musk has donated around $ 100 million to charities through his foundation and CFOs (this figure does not include money possibly donated by his foundation after 2018 or money was not donated through a foundation or DAF.) This calculation allows Musk to donate so far about 0.05% of his current net worth to charity. This figure also follows what Musk has said publicly – in 2018, he said that he had sold about $ 100 million of Tesla shares to fund his charity.
Musk’s reps did not respond to Recode’s request for comment.
Since about three-quarters of Musk’s donations to date come from DAF, which doesn’t have to file similar public tax documents, it’s more difficult to know which specific nonprofits he supports. It’s somewhat intentional: Musk said his grants are “(almost always) anonymous”, although this is technically only true for donations originating outside the foundation walls (although Musk said incorrectly that his foundation donations are also “anonymous”.)
There were, however, some announcements of large donations from beneficiaries. In addition to the foundation’s $ 10 million to OpenAI, Musk has donated at least $ 10 million to the Future of Life Institute, which studies security in artificial intelligence; $ 10 million for a prize focused on promoting literacy around the world; and $ 6 million to the Sierra Club, a donation that was originally anonymous and then made public after Musk encouraged the organization to do so. Musk also said that he is “one of the main donors” to the American Civil Liberties Union, without disclosing a specific amount.
But those donations all took place at a quieter time in Musk’s wealth history. Just over a year ago, Musk testified under oath that he was worth around $ 20 billion, although like other billionaire tech founders, most of that money is in illiquid stocks that a CEO hesitates. often for sale. Now Bloomberg estimates his net worth at over 10 times that.
And as the richest person in the world, more eyeballs will be with his every move. Progressive activists and politicians have increasingly turned their anger on a few high-profile billionaires – sending a guillotine to Bezos’ mansion at one point, for example – as a way to criticize income inequality in the United States. Billionaires, however, have used their philanthropy as a counter-argument to higher taxes that would reduce inequality, underscoring the good they are doing for the world today with wealth.
Musk, who bristled with the “billionaire” label and recently moved himself and his foundation to Texas, said his big philanthropic investments are decades away, which could frustrate the left. The entrepreneur said that if he would sell more Tesla shares “every few years” for philanthropy, “the major disbursements” of his charities will not occur for about 20 years, “when Tesla is in stable condition.” That would be around when Musk is almost 70 years old.
But he seems to have a clear idea of how he wants to spend his fortune at this point. He has already sketched two large buckets for his wealth: half for Earth and the other for Mars.
“I will use this to make life multiplanetary, help education and the environment on Earth with my foundation. I don’t want us to be sad for the future, ” he said of his wealth in 2018. “About half of my money is going to problems on Earth, the other half to help establish a self-sustaining city on Mars to ensure the continuity of life in case we get hit by a meteor or World War III ends.” would produce and that we would destroy ourselves ”. he said to another disciple a few months later.
He’s already starting to give other gifts. Friday, Barstool Sports ad that Musk had created a fund he had organized to support by Barstool Sports for small businesses.
Musk isn’t as conspicuous with his material comforts as other tech billionaires – he’s in the sales process for all its homes, and did not show the same taste for yachts or other trifles. From Musk’s perspective, he’s saving.
“It will take a lot of resources to build a city on Mars,” he told an interviewer last month. “I want to be able to contribute as much as possible.”