Elon Musk Sent Most of His Charitable Dollars in 2022 to a Brand-New Nonprofit: His New School

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Elon Musk owns the world’s most valuable car company, the social media network formerly known as Twitter and the satellite network Ukrainian soldiers rely on to survive on the battlefield. In recent years, he’s vied with the likes of Jeff Bezos and Bernard Arnault for the title of the world’s richest person.

So where does he send his charitable donations? As far as we can tell from the latest publicly available IRS tax filings, mostly to his future K-12 school and university, at least in 2022. 

That year, his Musk Foundation sent nearly $100 million — or 62% of its grants — to an organization called “The Foundation,” a Houston-based nonprofit controlled by Musk. As first reported by Bloomberg Businessweek late last year, the Tesla CEO’s goal there is to create a primary and secondary school focused on STEM, and ultimately, a university, all based in Austin.

What about the rest of the money? The next largest gift went into a black box. The Musk Foundation sent $36 million, or an additional 22% of the full amount, to a Fidelity Charitable donor-advised fund. Such accounts have no payout minimums and limited disclosure requirements. About half of the remaining contributions went to just two grantees: Khan Academy ($7 million) and the XPrize Foundation ($4 million), the latter of which got $100 million from Musk a few years ago in his first known mega-donation.

In all, the Musk Foundation granted out $160 million in 2022, nearly the exact sum that went out the year before, and with those four grantees accounting for 92% of its funding. Other major awards included disaster relief for New Orleans, Ukraine and Germany, sea turtle rehabilitation, and local government and nonprofits in Brownsville, Texas, the city nearest to the launch pad of SpaceX, another Musk venture.

There’s reason to think the foundation paid out even more in 2023, or at least will have to in the future. Musk’s operation fell short of the 5% payout mark in both 2021 and 2022, with a total of $234 million outstanding, according to the operation’s own 990 calculations. To catch up, it either already upped its grants budget last year, or will need to do so soon. (Foundations must grant out 5% of their assets annually, but underpayments are relatively common and can be carried into future years.)

Musk’s philanthropy will also have to give more simply to keep pace with its own assets. Between 2020 and 2022 — the year the tech entrepreneur bought Twitter, now X — he donated millions of Tesla shares to his foundation. At the time they were made, those donations totaled roughly $10.6 billion. Yet a three-year-low in Tesla’s stock price in 2022 meant that year’s IRS filing shows a much-depressed asset total. As of this writing, the company has recovered much of those loses, so the endowment is likely around $7.5 billion, give or take.

At that value, the foundation would need to make roughly $375 million in grants annually, more than double what it has ever given out in a single year. The grantmaker, by the way, lists no employees, which is fairly standard for the philanthropies of billionaires with large family offices. Its website remains sparse, to say the least.

Compared to the rest of us, Musk’s contributions to his foundation are the equivalent of donating about $7,400 — a significant, but not unimaginable amount. Basically the cost of a well-worn-in used car. That’s what Musk’s $11 billion contribution amounts to next to his fortune of $182 billion at time of writing, compared with the median American’s net wealth. And bear in mind that estimates of Musk’s wealth were even higher — exceeding $200 billion — before a stock slide, though a recent judgement against his $56 billion pay package at Tesla could pull the number down further. 

Little is known about The Foundation and Musk’s planned university beyond Bloomberg’s report — and an on-brand X thread from Musk joking about his new university’s acronym. The Bloomberg story, and the Texas registration filings of The Foundation, which list “The X Foundation” as an alternate name, also reveal that some of Musk’s closest confidants are in charge. 

Among those on the board is Jared Birchall, often described as Musk’s “right-hand man,” who oversees the 52-year-old’s personal affairs and fortune. Birchall also serves as the CEO of a company cofounded by Musk, the neurotechnology firm Neuralink. The other two listed directors, Ronald Gong and Teresa Holland, also work in the Musk family office, Catalyst, while Bloomberg reported that there’s a fourth board member, Steven Chidester, a tax attorney at Withersworldwide.

For all his unconventional and unpredictable behavior, like trolling then-World Food Programme Director David Beasley about solving world hunger and swearing at X’s advertisers on stage — not to mention the darker overtones of posts and comments viewed by many as racist and antisemitic — Musk’s grantmaking in 2022 was relatively staid.

Educational institutions, long a donor favorite, came out on top, led by his own. Musk seems primed to follow in the footsteps of a number of super-rich donors who’ve stood up their own universities, like George Soros and Leland Stanford. Similarly, his support for a carbon removal competition through XPrize isn’t anything too left-field, especially for him: a big prize favoring tech moonshots in a sort of analog to Prince William’s Earthshot Prize

Even his smaller checks went to things like disaster relief, always a worthy cause, if not one you’d necessarily associate with Musk. Solving world hunger, despite the tweets, did not appear to feature at all. One of his largest past mega-gifts also went to a fairly conventional destination, if via an unconventional process. In 2021, he sent $50 million to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, part of a sort of “charity spaceflight” for the fundraising powerhouse, one that doubled as promotion for SpaceX.

All that said, there’s the open question of where the millions the Musk Foundation sent to a DAF were spent, especially considering this doesn’t seem to be a case of simply using a DAF gift to reach a foundation’s 5% spending threshold — which the operation didn’t reach in 2021 or 2022, after all.

In any event, it will still be interesting, as it always is with Musk, to see what he does next — particularly as the next grant rounds will likely be twice as big.