Jeff Bezos donated $100 million to fighting homelessness — and in an unusual move, he’s letting the charities control how it’s spent

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Cliff Owen/AP Images
  • AmazonCEO Jeff Bezos is acting as a hands-off philanthropist with his Day 1 Families Fund.
  • Through the fund, Bezos gave nearly $US100 million to 24 nonprofits working to combat family homelessness in the US. Now, he’s leaving millions of dollars at the discretion of each charity, Recode reported.
  • Typically, funders are stringent with their donations, restricting how the money can be spent and asking for quarterly updates. Bezos hasn’t specified how his donations should be spent, other than combatting homelessness, and he’s only asked for one update per year.
  • Bezos’ unconventional, laissez-faire approach to philanthropy could garner criticism, but the charities he is serving are both baffled and delighted.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is acting as a hands-off philanthropist: he’s given nearly $US100 million to charities combatting family homelessness, and now he’s leaving the millions of dollars at their discretion, Recode reports.

Bezos launched the $US2 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 $US5 million grants, and the remaining nine received $US2.5 million grants.

Bezos historically hasn’t prioritised 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.

Read more:

MacKenzie Bezos is officially Amazon’s second-largest individual shareholder and the third-wealthiest woman in the world

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 organisation that monitors how efficiently nonprofits use donations, told Recode.

Here’s the full list of 2018 Day 1 Families Fund Awardees:

  1. Abode Services, Fremont, CA • $US5 million
  2. Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA • $US5 million
  3. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami, Miami, FL • $US5 million
  4. Catholic Community Services of Western Washington, Tacoma, WA • $US5 million
  5. Community of Hope, Washington, DC • $US5 million
  6. Community Rebuilders,Grand Rapids, MI • $US5 million
  7. Crossroads Rhode Island, Providence, RI • $US5 million
  8. District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH),Washington, DC • $US2.5 million
  9. Emerald Development and Economic Network, Cleveland, OH • $US2.5 million
  10. FrontLine Service, Cleveland, OH • $US2.5 million
  11. Hamilton Families, San Francisco, CA • $US2.5 million
  12. Heartland Family Service, Omaha, NE • $US5 million
  13. Housing Families First, Henrico, VA • $US2.5 million
  14. JOIN, Portland, OR • $US5 million
  15. LA Family Housing, North Hollywood, CA • $US5 million
  16. Northern Virginia Family Service, Oakton, VA • $US2.5 million
  17. Primo Center for Women and Children, Chicago, IL • $US2.5 million
  18. Refugee Women’s Alliance, Seattle, WA • $US2.5 million
  19. SEARCH Homeless Services, Houston, TX • $US5 million
  20. Simpson Housing Services, Minneapolis, MN • $US2.5 million
  21. The Salvation Army, Center of Hope, Charlotte, NC • $US5 million
  22. The Salvation Army of Greater Houston, Houston, TX • $US5 million
  23. UMOM New Day Centres, Phoenix, AZ • $US5 million
  24. Urban Resource Institute, New York, NY • $US5 million