How Ted Turner Changed the Face of Modern Philanthropy

One donation, made over 15 years ago altered the course of history for the global community.

15 years ago Ted Turner donated $1 billion to the United Nations for causes such as fighting global poverty, aiding refugees, and clearing landmines. It was a spur of the moment decision that has literally changed the face of modern day philanthropy.  Nicholas D. Kristof, of the New York Times explains that,

In nominal terms, before adjusting for inflation, that semiaccidental donation was, at the time, believed to be the biggest single gift ever made, and it has helped transform philanthropy … Turner’s gift helped change that culture, reviving the tradition of great philanthropists like Rockefeller and Carnegie. Turner publicly began needling other billionaires — including Bill Gates and Warren Buffett — to be more generous. That was a breach of etiquette, but it worked.

Before Turner’s unprecedented donation, the ultra-rich were more concerned with competing for a place on the Forbes and Fortunes lists of the world’s wealthiest people. Kristof says,

If they did give back, it was often late in life and involved museums or the arts. They spent far more philanthropic dollars on oil paintings of women than on improving the lives of real women.

Matthew Bishop, co-author of Philanthrocapitalism, which is a book about how the business world is reshaping philanthropy says,

It’s a starting point for me of this modern era of high-profile big public giving. He called on others to step up, which did have a crystallizing effect on others. It allowed journalists and others who were talking to Bill Gates to say, ‘Why aren’t you giving more?’ Then they tormented Buffett with the same question.

Eventually, both Bill Gates and Warren Buffett gave huge donations that have drastically altered the global struggle against disease and poverty. In fact, both of these men now actively recruit for the Giving Pledge, which commits the world’s zillionaires to donate at least half of their accumulated personal wealth.

However Mr. Turner didn’t stop there, he is still encouraging others to get involved. He said,

You don’t have to have any money to make a difference; you can pick up trash walking down the street, and I do that all the time. You can volunteer your time. You can be a big brother or a big sister.

Ted Turner not only set an amazing precedent with his huge donation 15 years ago, he also did so without expecting any recognition in return. You see, he didn’t even put his name on the foundation his gift created, but instead let the money he donated speak for itself by quietly and effectively saving lives around the world.


Photo: Images_of_Money/Flickr

About Kathryn DeHoyos

Kathryn DeHoyos currently resides on the outskirts of Austin, TX. She has 2 beautiful children, and is very happily un-married to her life partner DJ.


  1. Thank you, Kathryn for sharing that story. I remember that extraordinary donation. As the sister of two philanthropists and having been involved for almost 20 years, I’ve seen how the landscape has changed…a good thing!

    • Kathryn DeHoyos says:

      It was a pleasure to write! Thank you for reading it 🙂 I remember hearing my dad and his friends talk about it when I was a teenager so when I came across the article I was pretty stoked!

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