Marty Levine wrote for the Nonprofit Quarterly for many years, where he distinguished himself as a skeptic of billionaires buying good press. He now writes his own blog, where this post appeared. He calls this post “The Corrosive Nature of Mega-Philanthropy.”

He writes:

I want this world to be a kinder, gentler place for all of its people. I want to admire those who sacrifice their own time and money in order to help those in greater need. I try, however imperfectly, to do the same. But I remain concerned about the growing power of those with great wealth to, even with the best of motives, turn their charity and philanthropy from acts of kindness to tools of power and control.

The Seattle Times opened a recent article about a project of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with a recognition of how big gifts have an impact. “When philanthropists spend vast sums of money on a project, jubilation and high expectations ensue.” But it was the sentence that followed, “But money doesn’t necessarily produce results,” that grabbed my attention.

In this age of mega-philanthropy vast sums are donated with great frequency; as I write this the list of gifts of more than $1 million in 2022, as reported by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, is approaching 400. 18 individual gifts have exceeded $100 billion!

While we laud the act of giving, we ignore that these gifts are too often just another way for wealthy people to flex their muscles and continue to inappropriately exert social and political influence. And they do this with little or no public oversight, or with any public accountability for the effectiveness of their gifts or for the harms they may do.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and its associated Trust, with assets now in excess of $70 billion, stand as a stark example of this flawed system of philanthropy. The Gates’ philanthropic organizations are tax-exempt, which means that the Gates have personally benefited from the tax savings that our nation grants to donors. Because the Gates are allowed to donate funds to a structure they control, donating for them does not require them to relinquish the power at all. Their charitable venture just provides another mechanism of control, perhaps with a softer, kinder wrapping, but still a mechanism of influence and control.

And with that power, the Gates have brought their belief that they have the answers to some of the world’s most challenging problems and can impose those answers on those desperate for the resources they chose to give away. They have been able to put their solutions into action across the globe with little need to ensure that those whose lives they will be impacting agree with their directions or their proposed solutions. Their definition of philanthropy appears to begin with a belief that because they have amassed great wealth they are wise; that the size of their bank account is a measure of their intelligence and it gives them the authority to act. They act with a belief that because they are wealthy, they have no need to be accountable to those without wealth.

Read on to learn more about the philanthropists who use their gifts to control the lives of others.