When it comes to supporting environmental causes, even small donations can mean big changes. From 2000 to 2008, donations earmarked for climate change efforts increased from $100 million to $850 million, according to a 2009 report from the nonprofit Foundation Center.
Here, we've tracked down seven individuals and organizations known for their generous donations to improve air and water quality, save endangered species, cut greenhouse gas and conserve land. And even if you don't have $1 million extra to spare, you might just find your next favorite cause.
1. Gordon and Betty Moore
What they give: About $183 million each year
How they made it: Gordon Moore (left) started his career in technology by co-founding Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957, but it's his work as a founder, president, chairman, CEO, and chairman emeritus of Intel that made the biggest impact. He's also the Moore in Moore's Law, which inspired the industry to double the number of semiconductors that can fit on a computer chip every year — so you have him to thank for being able to afford a phone that accesses the Internet and fits in your pocket.
Where they spend it: The Moores set up the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in September 2000 to fund improvements in environmental conservation, science, and the San Francisco Bay Area. They've donated to everything from the Alaska Conservation Foundation to the Woods Hole Research Center; endowed the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at the University of California; and developed initiatives to preserve the Andes-Amazon region, protect North Pacific salmon, and maintain marine ecosystems.
2. Doug and Kris Tompkins
What they give: About $275 million (as of October 2009)
How they made it: The Tompkins turned to fashion for their fortune: Doug Tompkins started both Esprit and The North Face, and cashed in big when he sold his Esprit stock in 1990; Kris Tompkins spent 18 years as CEO of Patagonia.
Where they spend it: The Tompkins set up two conservation organizations — Conservation Land Trust and Conservacion Patagonica — to preserve wild habitats in Argentina and Chile. Through Conservation Land Trust, Doug Tompkins purchased and protected more than 700,000 acres to create Pumalin Park and is working on a similar park-creation project in Argentina. Through Conservacion Patagonica, Kris Tompkins spearheaded the 2004 purchase of 173,000 acres in Chile as the site of the future Patagonia National Park. They've faced local opposition on all the projects — mostly, they say, because what they're doing is so uncommon in the region. As Kris told CNN, "Buying land, conserving it, and shepherding it towards national park status, yes, it is probably legitimate to call us pioneers."
3. Ted Turner
What he gives: More than $1.5 billion to date — plus he owns more than 2 million acres of land, much of it protected.
How he made it: Ted Turner is famous for his television entrepreneurship: He started TBS in 1976, CNN in 1980, and then added TNT, Cartoon Network, CNN Headline News, and CNN International to his holdings; bought Castle Rock Entertainment and New Line Cinema, and merged his company with Time Warner in 1996.
Where he spends it: Known as much for his personal life as he is for his philanthropy, Turner donates to several foundations: Turner Foundation, which works for better air and water quality, sustainable energy sources, and wildlife protection; Turner Endangered Species Fund, which focuses on the biodiversity of Turner's protected ranches; the United Nations Foundation, which received a $1 billion pledge from Turner in 1997; and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which attempts to "reduce the global threats from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons."
4. David Gelbaum
What he gives: More than $380 million since 2005
How he made it: Venture capitalist David Gelbaum and his Quercus Trust have invested in more than 40 green technology companies, including Entech Solar, BlueFire Ethanol, and GridPoint Energy.
Where he spends it: Most of Gelbaum's donations went to the California Community Foundation's Iraq-Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund, which helps the families of deployed troops. But he also made annual donations totaling almost $50 million to the Sierra Club and nearly $95 million to the ACLU--until this year, when the famously private giver made a public statement admitting his philanthropy would decrease as a result of the economy. He also has a history of donating to California's conservation efforts and wilderness education programs.
What they give: About $785 million in grants in 2008
How they made it: William's the Hewlett in Hewlett-Packard, which had its first big success in 1940 with the audio oscillator — and stayed at the forefront of new technologies with computers, printers, laptops and more. Flora died in 1977 and William in 2001, but the foundation they created in 1966 is still a major philanthropic influence.
Where they spend it: From its headquarters in California's first LEED Gold-certified building, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation puts environmental and social issues at the top of its priority list with grants that protect ecosystems and slow climate change and others that fund educational programs locally or internationally. Recent recipients include the National Resources Defense Council, Trout Unlimited and the International Sustainable Systems Research Center.
6. Robert Wilson
How he made it: The old-fashioned way: on Wall Street. This retired hedge fund manager was a whiz at short selling, turning a $15,000 investment into an $800 million fortune in about 40 years.
Where he spends it: Robert Wilson told Portfolio in 2007 that his "aim is to give away 70 percent of my net worth before I die," and he's on the right track. That year, he donated $22 million to the Nature Conservancy and $13.6 million to the Wildlife Conservation Society, along with other gifts to the World Monuments Fund and the Environmental Defense Fund. "My primary interest has been conservation," he said, "the idea that but for my money, this building or piece of land or that animal would be gone." In 2009, he partnered with the non-profit Rare conservation organization for a fundraising challenge where he promised to match the highest donation — $6.1 million — by 100 percent.
7. Donald Bren
What he gives: More than $1.3 billion as of 2008
How he made it: Three words: Location, location, location. Donald Bren has spent nearly five decades in California real estate, from planning and building to long-term investing. As the Los Angeles Times (quoted in Bren’s biography on his website) put it, "Orange County looks like Orange County — much of it uniformly manicured and catering to the high life and high tech — because of the influence of Bren."
Where he spends it: Real estate and conservation don't always seem like they'd go together, but Bren's been active in both. In 1988, his Irvine Company contracted with the city to set aside permanent green space, and, in the '90s, worked with the Nature Conservancy to protect and preserve 50,000 acres of land on Irvine Ranch. He also donates to public schools and enrichment programs and provides faculty endowments at the University of California.
Related stories on MNN:
Click for photo credits
Photo (Gordon Moore): OnInnovation/flickr
Photo (Doug and Kris Tompkins): Wikimedia Commons
Photo (Ted Turner): AFP/Getty Images; tease photo of Turner: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Photo (David Gelbaum): Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/flickr
Photo (William Hewlett): Getty Images