• September 22, 2014

Most-Generous Donors Gave More in 2011 but Still Lag Their Pre-Recession Pace

As Tensions Over Wealth Gap RIse, Rich Are Giving More 1

Kevin Fitzsimons, Ohio State University

Leslie and Abigail Wexner (center) ranked No. 21 on the list of top donors for their $65-million pledge to Ohio State University.

As the stock market resurged last year, so did the charitable giving of the super wealthy. America’s top 50 donors gave a total of $10.4-billion in 2011, up from $3.3-billion the previous year, according to a Chronicle study. One big bequest boosted the total significantly; excluding that gift, the philanthropists on The Chronicle’s list of the most generous Americans contributed $4.4-billion.

Twenty-nine people on the list donated $50-million or more, compared with 22 in 2010. Rich people and the fundraisers who woo them expect greater levels of giving this year and next, assuming the economy keeps creeping toward recovery.

“Consumer confidence is up, business confidence is up modestly,” says Eli Broad (No. 49), the real-estate mogul who last year gave $27-million to his foundations. “If that continues, people will open their purses wider.”

But wealthy people still aren’t feeling as generous as in pre-recession times. The median gift from donors on the list was $61-million, compared with $74.7-million in 2007.

$6-Billion Bequest

The philanthropists on The Chronicle’s Philanthropy 50 list are a mix of old money and new, famous and unfamiliar names, longtime charity patrons and those fresh to public displays of largesse.

Margaret A. Cargill, a press-shy agribusiness heiress, topped the list with a $6-billion bequest to two foundations she set up to support the arts, the environment, disaster relief, and other causes. Ms. Cargill died in 2006 but the foundations weren’t able to liquidate her assets until last year.

The No. 2 spot went to the late William S. Dietrich II, a steel executive. He left $500-million to a foundation that will largely benefit universities. The Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, the financier George Soros, and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg rounded out the top five. (Bill Gates, Mr. Allen’s one-time business partner, gave his foundation about $67.9-million last year, but he’s not on the list because the money is a payment on a pledge Mr. Gates and his wife, Melinda, made in 2004.)

One big gift on the list was nearly sunk by a family spat. In 2007, Alan E. Lewis (No. 47), a luxury-vacation mogul, promised the Boston Foundation a 40-percent stake in a cruise ship he co-owned with a brother, Henry R. (Hank) Lewis. But after the stock market’s dive, the brothers became embroiled in a court battle over the donation. In July, a judge ruled against Hank Lewis, awarding the foundation $29.4-million.

Another gift began with an offer some fundraisers might have overlooked. Robert L. Tidwell (tied for No. 44), a private investor, contacted the Children’s Hospital of Orange County in 2004, saying he wanted to donate a computer. Staff members from the California hospital’s foundation later invited him to tour the facility. Last year, when Mr. Tidwell died, he left the foundation his entire fortune, $30-million.

New to the list are Sergey M. Brin, the Google co-founder, and his wife, Anne E. Wojcicki (No. 25). They gave $61.9-million to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which fights Parkinson’s disease. Mr. Brin carries a gene mutation associated with Parkinson’s. Sheldon and Miriam Adelson (tied for No. 37), who have attracted attention because of their financial support of Newt Gingrich’s presidential run, gave $35-million in big gifts to charities last year. The casino tycoons donated that money to a research center devoted to the Holocaust as well as to Birthright Israel, which sends young Jews on trips there.

Fundraisers who seek gifts from multimillionaires and billionaires say now isn’t the time to step back from ambitious appeals, even if the economy is still shaky.

Says Albert R. Checcio, chief fundraiser with the University of Southern California, which just embarked on a $6-billion campaign: “You really can’t wait until all the stars align.”

Caroline Bermudez contributed to this article.

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