The Jeff Bezos approach to charity

…he has done something that even the nonprofits receiving his millions remark is highly unusual: He has given them life-changing money with virtually no restrictions, formal vetting, or oversight, according to Recode’s interviews with eight of those funded by him and others familiar with his donations.

Funders of Bezos’s stature typically cast an open call for proposals, spending months poring over applications from nonprofits and sometimes insisting on site visits, interviews, and reams of financial data. Bezos’s team instead quietly cold-called the nonprofits he was already interested in backing, asked them for a few 500-word answers, and then wired them millions of dollars in cash or Amazon shares within about six weeks of making initial contact.

Funders require nonprofits to fill out reports as often as every quarter, outlining the recipients progress on the funder’s own favorite dozen-plus metrics. Bezos does require an annual report, but he doesn’t even send a rubric; nonprofits can effectively create their own accountability and send him whatever type of update they want.

Funders are also prone to placing copious restrictions on their money to ensure it is spent on whatever it is they care about. What does Bezos do? He’s taken “no strings attached” to the extreme, effectively letting the nonprofits spend the money on anything that offers shelter to homeless families, even if the initiative was nowhere to be found on the original applications or grant agreements.

Here is the full Vox/Recode piece by Theodore Schleifer.


Better yet: give the monies directly to the homeless instead of to the non-profits and NGO's!

1)would that be tax deductible?
2)that'd require hiring someone to choose which homeless to give money to, and then someone to make sure the first person is doing what they're supposed to

I don't trust ngos myself, but maybe bezos just wants the tax benefits plus the good publicity without having to do all the vetting

There are no tax benefits to charitable donations, just tax subsidies.

Better yet pay the taxes on it before you give the money to charity.


Because not paying the taxes means that charitable giving is a tax loophole. It means that all other taxpayers must pony up to pay for that loophole. That means if a billionaire gives $100 million to his favorite charity that actually other taxpayers are ponying up $40 million of that If the billionaire really want to give money to a charity it should be 100% his money. Pay the taxes then do what you want to do with the money.

This is ridiculous. Charities supply a social service to help the poor. This means they provide services which the Government no longer need to. So by giving to charities, they are giving their money to provide the services required by tax dollars, but skipping the inefficient middleman that is the Government.

The idea that we should de-incentivize charity and make everyone give to Government first is an absurd leftist idea.

We protest!

Well, the Bezos approach doesn't sound anywhere near as donor friendly as the sort of tax saving, and profit returning (call for details - they aren't published on the web anymore) 'gifts' that select public policy institutes can provide.

That whole 'no accountability' thing must be nice, too. It might have saved you from unemployment. Oh well, too late now.

Wonder if he bought the Washington Post the same way?

And how his generosity may be effected by his divorce settlement would be an interesting issue to explore. Or at least whether his wife shared (or was the originator) of his approach.

Trump just steals from charities and taxpayers while bragging about how generous he is.

He could start with Amazon employees. Shorter working hours per week? =)

Why do the Amazon employees stand higher in the hierarchy of need than say a disable child?

Would Amazon employees with disabled children get to stand even higher in the hierarchy of need, considering that Bezos would be able to influence two distinct aspects of their lives?

@ChrisA: I assume you're not making a sarcastic remark ;)

We humans are tribal and help people that we know. The only people I've met that help strangers before their family, friends or neighbors are very religious Catholics with a vow of poverty. One thing is giving a hand to friend who is moving and a completely different thing paying for the clothes of poor children while making your own children wear old clothes.

Even if Mr. Bezos is rich, his charity money is a limited resource. I'd expect to share it with people with a certain connection to him. Also, Amazon has all the data available to know which employee is struggling the most, no need to rely on an NGO to filter people.

Considering what we know about working conditions at Amazon, it would be not bad to lose a bit of profit and have less money for charity but give better working conditions to employees.....unless the goal is enforce the vow of poverty on your employees to give money to even poorer people.

Working conditions at Amazon are good. If you are talking about warehouse workers, tops in the industry. If you are talking about software guys, they are rich anyway so it would be obscene to give charity to them.

I assume that Bezos’s staff are actually monitoring the charities, if the CEO for instance did suddenly vote themselves a massive pay rise then they would know. But one interesting thing is how this will shift the people running these charities, most of the people are probably there because of their ability to fund raise, not to effectively run the charity. You can see that in the some of the leaders who are missing their engagement with Bezos’s.

Later on one can expect a backlash against this approach when for whatever reason Bezos’s decides not to fund a charity, he will be blamed then for any negative consequences as a result.

The wisdom of crowds approach to philanthropy? Maybe. What motivates wealthy folks to create non-profits? Tax breaks? Good works? In reading news stories about Jeff Epstein I was impressed by the non-profits he created and funded. I use funded ironically: money seemed to flow in and out of them like the tide. No, I am not comparing Bezos to Epstein (although Bezos, for such a busy man, found time for sexual exploits): he may indeed be employing wisdom of crowds to find the best method for helping the most people. I am just pointing out that for every Jeff Bezos there are dozens of Jeff Epsteins. What evil lurks in the hearts of men? Only the accountants know.

My teacher, the late David Hays, ran the RAND Corporation's program in machine translation back in the 1950s and 60s, which was the early days of RAND. At that time RAND got half it's funding on a single contract signed by the Secretary of the Air Force. The work specification in the contract had a single line to the effect that RAND was to do work "for the good of the country". I don't know what the reporting requirements were.

sounds nice living in a high trust society

Philanthropy is overrated.

Virtue signalling makes the world go 'round, my friend.


philanthropy corrugated with a smirk
printed aside every cardboard box and room
every cardboard house with every cardboard door.

(cardboard comes in many grades, we might recall,
what they make today can be sturdy and stiff:
the printed smirks point to where the doors belong.)

portable cardboard houses are sturdy, light,
conferring portable charm when winds blow stiff,
leaving little ash left from any rude match.

"billions for millions!" philanthropies proclaim:
how did so many millions become so lame?

It says he relied on "experts" in the field of homelessness. I'd be curious to know how you become an expert in that field. If there are more homeless people than before he gave his $2 billion, will that be a sign his giving was successful?

In my own city the homelessness industry seems about as keen to reduce the numbers of people on the street as, I dunno, marriage counselors are to save marriages.

Did you Bezos's divorce reflected on the Bloomberg real-time net worth graph? Oof..

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