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A Billionaire Couple Has Come Under Fire for Promising to Donate Just 5% of Their Wealth

Although John Arnold and his wife, Laura, consistently rank among the top individual donors to charity in the U.S., at least one critic says they're not doing nearly enough.


A billionaire couple is facing criticism for pledging to donate just 5% of their net worth every year, MarketWatch reports. 

Ex-Enron trader and hedge fund manager John Arnold and his, wife Laura, a former attorney, have reportedly promised to donate the money as part of their commitment to Global Citizen's "Give While You Live" campaign. The initiative aims to accelerate charitable giving to fight world poverty. 

But one critic told MarketWatcthat the Arnolds could be giving away much more, especially since the couple is worth an estimated $3.3 billion. "They’re pushing in the right direction, but not significantly enough," Nia Wassink, a nonprofit consultant and co-host of the Nonprofit Reframe podcast, told the publication. “It’s laudable, but it’s just that they want to do that while maintaining their wealth and power, and that for me is what’s mutually exclusive. We can’t see real change and power shifting when the wealthy still hold the money and power.”

Wassink argued that the 5% that the Arnolds have pledged is not much, especially when their combined net worth is expected to grow an additional $974 million over the next 25 years. The Arnolds'  income trajectory is similar to that of the U.S.' wealthiest billionaires, many of whom saw their net worth skyrocket during the pandemic. In fact, America's billionaires collectively got $1.3 trillion richer between March 2020 and February 2021. 

"They should be deploying that wealth in a way that causes them to not be billionaires anymore,” Wassink said of the couple.

Since 2015, the Arnolds have, in fact, exceeded their pledge of giving away 5% of their net worth, MarketWatch notes. Last year, for instance, the couple donated $567,000,000 to charity — 17.18% of their net worth. The couple has donated to a number of causes, including lowering drug prices, ending mass incarceration and making tax policies more equitable. 

"Philanthropy is an important tool in addressing some of the systemic issues facing our country,"  David Hebert, the communications manager at the couple's philanthropic organization, Arnold Ventures, told the outlet. "Private-sector donors can, and often do, attempt to address critical issues that often go ignored simply because of political and/or reputational concerns. In short, philanthropists can routinely take risks that elected officials often find too scary."

And while the Arnolds have come under fire for not giving enough money away, MarketWatch points out that the couple, which signed Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Melinda Gates' Giving Pledge in 2010, has consistently ranked among the highest individual donors to charity in the U.S. 

Related: 10 Wealthy Entrepreneurs Who Give the Most to Charity

"Right now, many charities are in danger of not surviving the pandemic," John Arnold said in announcing his and his wife's pledge. "Yet, more than $1 trillion promised to them remains warehoused in tax-free investment accounts. America’s charities cannot afford to wait for some larger crisis to arise. Business as usual is simply not good enough."

Justin Chan

Written By

Entrepreneur Staff

Justin Chan is a news writer at Previously, he was a trending news editor at Verizon Media, where he covered entrepreneurship, lifestyle, pop culture, and tech. He was also an assistant web editor at Architectural Record, where he wrote on architecture, travel, and design. Chan has additionally written for Forbes, Reader's Digest, Time Out New YorkHuffPost, Complex, and Mic. He is a 2013 graduate of Columbia Journalism School, where he studied magazine journalism. Follow him on Twitter at @jchan1109.