A Year of Big Bequests

Richest donors gave $15.5-billion in 2008, but this year looks gloomy

Even in a year in which the stock market swallowed up nearly $7-trillion in assets, America's wealthiest donors promised greater amounts to charitable organizations than in 2007: $15.5-billion in 2008, compared with $7.3-billion the previous year, according to The Chronicle's annual ranking of the 50 most generous philanthropists.

But most gifts from the donors on the list came from decisions made long