By the Numbers, Google Founders' Philanthropies Are Now Peers to Legacy Giants


Nearly two decades have passed since Google went public and its founders officially joined the billionaire class. Now, a new set of filings show that their philanthropy is starting to rival, at least by the numbers, that of some of the largest and best-known grantmakers in the country.

The ultra-low-profile foundations of Sergey Brin and Larry Page now rank among the top 40 in the country by grantmaking after each gave away at least $80 million more in 2022 than the year before, according to data from their latest IRS filings and FoundationIQ. 

The growth caps several years of rising grantmaking from both billionaires, putting their operations in the company of institutions like the Walton Family Foundation and MacArthur Foundation. Yet unlike those funders, neither Brin’s nor Page’s foundation has a website or any other public presence. Our insight into how they’re giving is almost entirely limited to information from their 990-PF forms. Even then, it's not clear how much of Page’s giving actually reaches charities, if any, as nearly all of it lands at a donor-advised fund. 

What is evident is that it’s been a quick trip to the top. The Sergey Brin Family Foundation’s grantmaking more than doubled in 2022, as I reported last year, reaching $512 million. That’s nearly 10 times what it gave out five years before. Meanwhile, Page’s philanthropy, the Carl Victor Page Memorial Foundation, granted $276 million in 2022, a rise of 40% from 12 months earlier, based on the newly available documents. Compared to few years before, its grantmaking has grown nine-fold.

Put another way, Brin sent out nearly as much in 2022 as the joint philanthropic operation of the Waltons, America’s richest family, while Page’s grantmaking nearly hit the level of the MacArthur Foundation. Each of those examples has extensive websites with lists of the staff making funding decisions and databases listing all their grants and recipients. The only similar information from the Google cofounders is the legally mandated disclosures in their IRS filings.

With a year now elapsed since this data was current, both may have given even more in 2023 and through the beginning of 2024. A spokesperson for Brin’s foundation declined to comment for this story. A message to Page’s foundation was not returned by press time.

The pair’s rising largesse marks a long-hoped-for turn to big-dollar philanthropy by the two centibillionaires. That said, their philanthropy still falls far short of what their outsized wealth makes possible. By Forbes’ measure, Larry Page’s fortune of about $123 billion slightly outweighs that of his cofounder, with Sergey Brin clocking in at $118 billion.

Other top philanthropic billionaires still have them well outmatched. For instance, Bloomberg Philanthropies sent out more than $1.7 billion globally in 2022, and Forbes puts Mike Bloomberg’s fortune at $96 billion, well below those of both Google founders. The Gates Foundation, meanwhile, granted nearly five times that sum. And the Ballmer Group, channeling another centibillionaire fortune, reports that it gave out over $850 million in 2022.

In any case, Page and Brin’s emergence as megadonors further underscores tech billionaires’ ever-growing role in the philanthrosphere. The sector’s heavyweights have long included names like Pierre Omidyar, Laurene Powell Jobs, and Steve and Connie Ballmer, and there are many younger founders who started giving operations early, like the Facebook cofounders Dustin Moskovitz and Mark Zuckerberg, who both conduct giving alongside their wives. But unlike any of those billionaires, the two Google founders have chosen to have virtually no public presence for their philanthropy.

This lack of transparency is particularly acute in the case of Larry Page. Aside from sending a $1,000 check to the American Cancer Society — which he’s cut annually in recent years — every penny of his $276 million in grants in 2022 went to a donor-advised fund at the National Philanthropic Trust. Due to those accounts’ lack of disclosure requirements, there’s no way to know how much of that money went any further, or to whom.

Brin, on the other hand, lets a bit more light into the room. The Sergey Brin Family Foundation cuts all its checks directly to charities, including many big awards to longtime recipients in 2022. For instance, it sent more than $150 million to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, as well as $20 million to UCSF for work on the disease. Brin’s alma mater, Stanford University, a favorite recipient, got a $50 million donation. He also gave another $40 million to the Climate Imperative Foundation, a research operation and regrantor, to which he awarded the same amount in 2021. 

Brin’s Parkinson’s giving is his clear philanthropic priority and one of the only exceptions to the two founders’ otherwise all-but-silent operational style. Perhaps due to the high profile of Michael J. Fox, Brin has received frequent press coverage for his funding.

While grantmaking surged, not everything grew in 2022. Brin’s foundation lost billions of dollars in value, ending the year worth $1.7 billion less than 12 months before, and Page’s dropped by the same amount. The “main culprit” was Alphabet’s stock price, said John Seitz, CEO and founder of FoundationIQ. Both have donated a large quantity of their shares to the foundation, with Alphabet’s price skyrocketing in 2021, only to settle over the next 12 months.

But those fluctuations may prove to be much ado about nothing. The shares are now once again nearing their 2021 high, so the endowments should climb back to prior levels. On the other hand, the two founders’ low-key approaches to philanthropy have not wavered. Will the two do anything this year to lose their IP-awarded title as the Least Google-able Megadonors? We’ll see.