Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is acting as a hands-off philanthropist: he’s given nearly $100 million to charities combatting family homelessness, and now he’s leaving the millions of dollars at their discretion, Recode reports.
Bezos launched the $2 billion Bezos Day One Fund in September 2018. It currently has two projects: the Day 1 Families Fund, which includes the annual leadership awards given to the 24 charities combatting homelessness; and the Day 1 Academies Fund, which is launching a nonprofit that will eventually open preschools in underserved communities.
Typically, funders are stringent with their donations to nonprofit charities, restricting how the money can be allocated and asking for quarterly updates. Bezos is instead taking a laissez-faire approach: the richest person in the world hasn’t specified how his donations should be spent, other than the broad directive of combatting homelessness, and he’s only asked for one update per year, according to Recode.
Of the recipient charities, 15 received $5 million grants, and the remaining nine received $2.5 million grants.
Bezos historically hasn’t prioritized philanthropy. In 2017, The New York Times reported that Bezos had only given about 1% of his wealth to charity. Notably, Bezos has not signed The Giving Pledge, a pledge created by Bill and Melinda Gates with Warren Buffett that signifies a commitment of wealthy individuals to give more than half of their wealth towards philanthropy. Tech execs including Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Larry Ellison, and Reed Hastings have all signed the pledge. Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife, MacKenzie Bezos — who is now considered the third-richest woman in the world — signed the pledge in May 2019.
Bezos’ scouting process for the recipients of the Day 1 Families Fund grants was also non-traditional. Foundations typically announce grants and accept applications from prospective recipient nonprofits. In the case of the Day 1 Families Fund grants, Recode reported that an advisory board composed of eight experts in homelessness put together a shortlist of prospective charities and invited them to apply for the grants. (One charity head told Recode that she was called directly by Bezos’ personal attorney, Paul Dauber, inviting her to apply). The bulk of the application was a simple, 500-word essay for charities to describe how they would spend the millions of dollars from the grant to combat family homelessness.
Recode notes that Bezos’ laissez-faire approach could have downsides, however: the recipient nonprofits could flop even after receiving these enormous grants, and inadequate monitoring from the Day 1 Fund could lead to “mishaps,” the head of CharityWatch, an organization that monitors how efficiently nonprofits use donations, told Recode.
Here’s the full list of 2018 Day 1 Families Fund Awardees:
- Abode Services, Fremont, CA • $5 million
- Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA • $5 million
- Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami, Miami, FL • $5 million
- Catholic Community Services of Western Washington, Tacoma, WA • $5 million
- Community of Hope, Washington, DC • $5 million
- Community Rebuilders, Grand Rapids, MI • $5 million
- Crossroads Rhode Island, Providence, RI • $5 million
- District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH), Washington, DC • $2.5 million
- Emerald Development and Economic Network, Cleveland, OH • $2.5 million
- FrontLine Service, Cleveland, OH • $2.5 million
- Hamilton Families, San Francisco, CA • $2.5 million
- Heartland Family Service, Omaha, NE • $5 million
- Housing Families First, Henrico, VA • $2.5 million
- JOIN, Portland, OR • $5 million
- LA Family Housing, North Hollywood, CA • $5 million
- Northern Virginia Family Service, Oakton, VA • $2.5 million
- Primo Center for Women and Children, Chicago, IL • $2.5 million
- Refugee Women’s Alliance, Seattle, WA • $2.5 million
- SEARCH Homeless Services, Houston, TX • $5 million
- Simpson Housing Services, Minneapolis, MN • $2.5 million
- The Salvation Army, Center of Hope, Charlotte, NC • $5 million
- The Salvation Army of Greater Houston, Houston, TX • $5 million
- UMOM New Day Centers, Phoenix, AZ • $5 million
- Urban Resource Institute, New York, NY • $5 million