As the richest man in the world, and the world's only $100 billionaire, Jeff Bezos' philanthropy (or lack thereof) has come under a lot of scrutiny. This past summer, after The New York Times asked him if he had any philanthropic plans, Bezos responded with a tweet inviting suggestions for causes he might support. His tweet specified looking for giving opportunities that would have immediate, practical results.

Looks like he found one. A few days ago, TheDream.us, announced it was getting a $33 million donation from Bezos and his wife Mackenzie Bezos. TheDream.us is a non-profit organization that provides scholarships and support for so-called "Dreamers," undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. TheDream provides Dreamers with support usually around $30,000 over the course of a college education, although grants may be lower or higher depending on a student's circumstances and college choices.

Here are a few reasons why Bezos' first big foray into philanthropy is an incredibly smart choice.

1. It will infuriate President Donald Trump. 

Amazon and Bezos are a favorite target of Trump's legendary tweets. He's accused Amazon of not paying sales tax (although it now does) and forcing the closure of small businesses. Trump's particular nemesis is the Washington Post, which has often been critical of the president. Trump has even tweeted that Amazon bought the Post as a tax shelter for its profits. (The two problems with this accusation is that the Post claims it is profitable and Amazon doesn't own it. Bezos does.) 

This past weekend, the federal government shut down after members of Congress, along with Trump, failed to reach agreement on a spending bill to keep the lights on. The chief sticking point in their negotiations is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)--the Obama-era program that allows Dreamers to remain in the U.S., and which Trump and Congressional Republicans are seeking to end. Bezos has had the good sense not to engage in a Twitter war with Trump. Actions speak louder than words, and this donation expresses itself very clearly

2. It will have measurable results.

Bezos is data-driven so it makes sense that he wants his philanthropy to have a measurable effect. This donation will. TheDream.us has already sent more than 3,000 Dreamers to college and Bezos' donation will fund scholarships for 1,000 more. Most of these students likely wouldn't have gotten to college without these funds, since their undocumented status makes Dreamers ineligible for most scholarships and other forms of financial aid.

3. It may help Amazon sales.

Many smart donations benefit the donor's business in some way, and this donation does that. Support for the Dreamers is a popular cause, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll published in September. More than three quarters of respondents thought Dreamers should either have a path to citizenship, or should be allowed to remain in the U.S. as legal residents. Only 15 percent favored deporting them. So helping Dreamers get an education is likely to raise customers' opinions of Amazon.

Amazon is already beloved, as a recent survey shows, with 60 percent of customers saying they "greatly liked" the company's products. Meantime,  Trump's disapproval rating is around 55 percent. There are still millions of people who support Trump and are anti-immigration and it's certainly possible that this donation will inspire them to avoid buying from Amazon or even call for a boycott. But given all the negative things Trump has said about Amazon already, it's likely that committed Trump supporters aren't shopping there anyhow.

4. It will help Amazon with recruiting.

Finding skilled talent is the single biggest challenge for most companies, especially tech companies, and Amazon, with its continued rapid expansion, needs new hires more than most. Dreamers who've gotten their college degrees via Bezos' donation are liable to look favorably on a job offer from Amazon, and so are their college friends. 

5. For Bezos, it's an easy sum to part with.

A $33 million donation sounds impressive, and it is. But for the world's richest human, it's not that big a deal. That's especially true when you consider that Bill Gates gave away $4.6 billion and Warren Buffett gave away $3.17 billion in 2017. Gates and Buffett created the Giving Pledge, promising to give away most of their wealth either during their lifetimes or as bequests, and encouraging other billionaires to do the same. Bezos has not signed the pledge, and $33 million represents about .0033 percent of his wealth. It's the equivalent of someone with $100,000 in assets making a donation of $33.

While this may be Bezos' biggest donation, it's not his first and almost certainly won't be his last. It's a signal that he's finally putting some serious thought into philanthropy. It will be interesting to see what other causes he chooses to support.

Published on: Jan 22, 2018
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