The Amazon founder, estimated to be worth $124 billion, suggested in an interview on CNN that he would donate most of his money to charity in his lifetime, the first time he had made such a pledge.

Jeff Bezos and Lauren Sanchez said their giving would address climate change, among other priorities.
Credit…Michael Tran/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Isabella SimonettiNicholas Kulish

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, said that he would give away most of his money to charity, making him the latest billionaire to pledge to donate his vast fortune during his lifetime.

Mr. Bezos is the world’s fourth-richest person, worth $124 billion, according to Bloomberg. In an interview with CNN released on Monday, Mr. Bezos, appearing with his girlfriend, the former television anchor Lauren Sanchez, said they were making preparations “to be able to give away this money.”

He said that he wanted to give in a way that maximized the impact of the donations. “It’s really hard,” he said. “And there are a bunch of ways, I think, that you could do ineffective things,” he said.

It was the first time that Mr. Bezos announced that he would give away the bulk of his wealth. More than 230 of the richest people in the world have promised to donate their money to charitable causes as part of the Giving Pledge, a philanthropy movement started in 2010.

At least as far back as the 19th-century financier George Peabody, many ultrawealthy Americans have given away large shares of their fortunes. Andrew Carnegie famously wrote in his influential 1889 treatise “The Gospel of Wealth” that “The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.” Like Mr. Bezos at Amazon, Mr. Carnegie was frequently criticized for the labor conditions at his company.

The New York Times reported on Monday that Amazon plans to lay off approximately 10,000 people in corporate and technology jobs starting as soon as this week, in what would be the largest job cuts in the company’s history. Mr. Bezos’s wealth, which as recently as last year was more than $200 billion, according to Bloomberg, has fallen by tens of billions, on paper, because it is closely tied to Amazon’s share price, which has suffered along with other technology stocks this year.

Mr. Bezos, who is the executive chairman of Amazon, stepped down as chief executive in 2021 when he said his goal was “have the time and energy” to focus on his philanthropy and other pursuits. Mr. Bezos is also the owner of The Washington Post and has his own space travel company called Blue Origin.

On Saturday, Mr. Bezos and Ms. Sanchez announced a $100 million grant for the singer and philanthropist Dolly Parton to direct to her chosen charitable causes, as part of an annual gift called the Bezos Award for Courage and Civility. Before Ms. Parton, $100 million awards were given to the chef José Andrés and the CNN commentator and activist Van Jones, announced by Mr. Bezos at the news conference following his trip in July 2021 aboard a rocket sent to outer space by Blue Origin.

In 2020, Mr. Bezos pledged to give $10 billion to combat climate change as part of an initiative called the Bezos Earth Fund. As part of that commitment, Mr. Bezos pledged $2 billion to restore natural habitats and transform food systems at the climate summit in Glasgow last year. Previously, Mr. Bezos’ largest donation was a $2 billion gift to help homeless families and start preschools.

Mr. Bezos did not give many details in the CNN interview about how he would donate money, but his past efforts might provide some clues, said Stacy Palmer, the editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

“This is a giant statement, not just because of the amount of wealth he has, but because he might really have a ripple effect on what others choose to do,” Ms. Palmer said.

But Mr. Bezos’s comment about giving away his fortune was “not a binding promise,” said Maribel Morey, a philanthropy expert and founding executive director of the Miami Institute for the Social Sciences. “We run to make news of promises, but we actually don’t know if that’s going to materialize.”

In 1999, the Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his then-wife, Melinda French Gates, helped usher in a new era of billionaire philanthropy with enormous donations to their namesake foundation. Their close friend Warren Buffett, the prominent investor, announced in 2006 that he would give a significant slice of his Berkshire Hathaway shares, valued at the time at $31 billion, to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The three then started the Giving Pledge, where billionaires promise to give away at least half their fortunes, as a way to encourage greater generosity among the world’s richest people.

Other signatories have included Michael R. Bloomberg, then the mayor of New York; Mr. Gates’s Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen; and Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook chief executive, and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan. There are 236 pledgers across 28 countries, according to the Giving Pledge’s website.

Mr. Bezos has been criticized for not signing the Giving Pledge. His ex-wife, the author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, signed the pledge in 2019 after their divorce, vowing to “keep at it until the safe is empty.”

Ms. Scott, who is estimated by Bloomberg to be worth $24 billion, has already met the Giving Pledge threshold by giving away more than half her fortune — and she has done it in less than three and half years since first publishing her promise on the group’s website.

She has donated more than $14 billion to causes ranging from education to mental health. Ms. Scott, who recently filed for divorce from her second husband, has given to more than 1,500 groups.

Ms. Scott’s rapid, prolific giving is at times compared with Mr. Bezos’s own philanthropy, often to his detriment. Last month, Mr. Bezos visited the Vatican to receive a philanthropy award despite the fact that, as many observers noted, his ex-wife had given away more money than he had. Unlike Mr. Bezos, who appears at events and gives speeches highlighting his giving, Ms. Scott has maintained a low profile, refusing all interviews on the subject and restricting her comments to essays that she posts on the website Medium.

On Monday, Ms. Scott released her latest missive, noting that over the past seven months she had given nearly $2 billion to 343 organizations. Some of those gifts, like the $122.6 million to the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, had been previously announced. Others, like a $15 million gift to the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, were first revealed in the post. Like many of her gifts, the donation to the 83-year-old nonprofit group, which supports refugees and migrants entering the United States, was the largest in its history.

Ms. Scott began her latest essay with a poem by Gwen Nell Westerman that she said “inspires me by shutting me up every time I read it.”