WhatsApp’s reclusive founder has quietly become a megadonor to Jewish causes

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: United States

Publishing organisation: Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 2022-06-15

Language: English, Hebrew

Authors: Asaf Elia-Shalev


Asaf Elia-Shalev is a Los Angeles-based investigative reporter covering philanthropy in the Jewish world as a staff member of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. His nonprofit newsroom has covered Jewish communities around the world for more than 100 years.

Project description:

This project uses IRS tax-exempt organization data to examine the philanthropy of Jan Koum, the Ukrainian-born multi-billionaire who founded WhatsApp. Koum is known for being reclusive and he has disappeared from public eye over the past five years. But our analysis of IRS records filed by his foundation reveals that he has donated at least $180 million, mostly to Jewish causes in the United States and Israel. The analysis also sheds light on Koum’s ideological bent, naming the controversial charities that have received funding from Koum’s foundation.

Impact reached:

The project was widely reported on across the Jewish media in the United States and around the world, particularly in Israel. Communal priorities in the Jewish world are dominated by major charitable donors and so bringing one out of the shadows makes for a more informed public.

Techniques/technologies used:

I discovered the story using the Accountability Project’s database of public records. Then I gathered the annual filings of the Koum foundation through ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer. The most recent filing was not available there so I obtained it through the California registry of charities. I used OCR software on all the filings and then I built a database of all the grants listed on the filings using Google Sheets. Then I used Flourish to analyze and visualize the data.

Context about the project:


What can other journalists learn from this project?

Billionaires involved in philanthropy don’t always publicly announce their charity or seek credit for it, so it’s important to always go to primary sources.

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