Twenty donors made gifts of $100-million or more last year, just shy of a record of 21 such gifts in 2006, according to The Chronicle’s annual ranking of the 50 most-generous Americans.
And despite a turbulent economy, fund raisers seeking donations of $10-million or more predict another strong year of big gifts in 2008.
“All our indicators are very positive,” says Jeffrey L. Newton, vice president for resource development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge. “I’m very optimistic we will continue this trend.”
Last year the university received pledges from two donors on the list, $100-million from the businessman David H. Koch (No. 14) and $31-million from the telecommunications entrepreneur Irwin M. Jacobs, and his wife, Joan. (tied for No. 40).
Led by William Barron Hilton’s pledge of $1.2-billion to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, in Reno, Nev., donors on the list committed $7.3-billion to charity last year. In 2006, donors made gifts of $6.6-billion, not including Warren E. Buffett’s $43.5-billion in donations.
Donors had to give at least $38.4-million to be part of the list, a slight increase from the 2006 minimum of $37.6-million.
The median gift amount for donors was $74.4-million, meaning half gave more and half gave less. The figure represents a modest increase from the median of $71.8-million in 2006, which does not include Mr. Buffett’s gifts.
Anonymous gifts are not counted on the list, but the number of such large donations is growing swiftly: at least four donations of $100-million or more were made anonymously last year.
While the country’s richest man, Bill Gates, chairman of the software giant Microsoft, did not announce any new megagifts last year, a majority of the year’s biggest donations came from the country’s billionaires. Twenty-eight donors on the list counted among the 400 wealthiest Americans, according to Forbes magazine’s most recent list.
“There is a lot of great social cachet about giving away a lot of money right now,” says Bruce Flessner, a Minneapolis consultant who works on billion-dollar fund-raising campaigns. “These are fortunes that are beyond anybody’s ability to give away or spend in any number of lifetimes.”
But some observers argue that the donations seem paltry compared with the fortunes in America.
“It’s shocking how little the very rich give away,” says Gregg Easterbrook, an author and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, in Washington. “You look at people who could give away half of what they possess and still be billionaires, but are hoarding for themselves — these are people society ought to view in contempt, and not feel grateful for the crumbs from the table.”
The Top Five
Two bequests from individuals who died last year — the hotel mogul Leona M. Helmsley and Helen R. Walton, widow of the Wal-Mart Stores founder Sam M. Walton — would probably have led the Philanthropy 50, but the donors’ multibillion-dollar estates have not yet been settled. As a result, 2007 was the first time in seven years that all five of the biggest donors were living.
With only days to go in 2007, Mr. Hilton, 80, whose wealth comes from hotels and casinos, revealed plans to give $1.2-billion to the Hilton Foundation when he dies, which will push the value of the foundation and its affiliated charities to $4.3-billion.
In addition, he said the grant maker will receive the bulk of his remaining wealth, estimated at $1.1-billion.
The foundation, established by Mr. Hilton’s father in 1944, supports a range of programs, including preventing and treating blindness worldwide, improving water-sanitation systems in developing countries, curbing drug abuse among young people, providing early childhood education to disabled children, and helping the homeless. William Barron Hilton serves as its chairman.
“His intention has always been to follow in his father’s footsteps in leaving essentially all of his estate to the foundation,” says one of his sons, Steven M. Hilton, the foundation’s president. “He doesn’t believe it’s healthy to leave a lot of money to your children, because it robs them of the satisfaction of making it on their own.”
In accord with William Barron Hilton’s wishes, the foundation has no plans to significantly alter its mission or add new programs because of the pledge, says Steven Hilton. “I take my father’s gift as a vote of confidence that he believes in the way this foundation is being managed and the direction we are going,” he says. “I see it as continuing the philanthropic legacy his father started.”
Jon M. Sr. and Karen H. Huntsman’s gift of $750-million gives them the second berth on the list.
The bulk of the money, $700-million, will go through the Huntsman Foundation to support, among other causes, cancer research and treatment. The couple also pledged $26-million to Utah State University, in Logan, mostly to support its School of Business, and made a series of smaller gifts to charities in Idaho, Pennsylvania, and Utah. Mr. Huntsman, a three-time cancer survivor, chairs the Huntsman Corporation, a chemical company in Salt Lake City.
Tied for third place are T. Denny Sanford and George Soros, each of whom committed $474.6-million to charity last year.
Mr. Sanford, chairman of First Premier Bank, Premier Bankcard, and the United National Corporation, all in Sioux Falls, S.D., pledged most of his gift, $400-million, to the Sanford Health Foundation to establish children’s health clinics in the United States and abroad and to support pediatric health-care and medical-research programs in the country.
Other major pledges include $30-million to the San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine and $10-million to the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, in South Dakota.
Mr. Soros made his donations to three New York grant-making foundations he created and helps manage: $238.6-million to the Open Society Institute, $230-million to the Soros Humanitarian Foundation, and $6-million to the Iris Foundation, all in New York. Mr. Soros, a Hungarian immigrant, is chairman of Soros Fund Management, in New York.
Rounding out the top five is John W. Kluge, who made a pledge of $400-million to Columbia University, in New York. The gift will pay for financial aid for undergraduate and graduate students. Mr. Kluge, who founded Metromedia, a New York entertainment company, graduated from the university in 1937.
Gifts to higher education by the top 50 donors far outpaced those to other types of charities in 2007, although the two largest gifts on the list benefited donors’ own foundations.
Scholarships and health care proved popular causes among donors, while arts and environmental groups, as well as community foundations, were largely shut out this year.
While 13 donors on the list supported scholarships, not one directed a megagift toward the hot-button issue of global warming. The same fact won’t be true on next year’s list, predicts David Yarnold, executive vice president at Environmental Defense, a charity that works on the issue, in New York.
“It’s safe to say that pot is boiling,” he says. “The issue really got people’s attention in the last couple of years and has taken some time to percolate up to the biggest givers.”
The Buffett Effect
Two donors on the Philanthropy 50 list credit Mr. Buffett’s historic pledge in 2006 with prompting their own commitments.
One gift, from Richard C. and Melanie F. Lundquist (No. 33), will provide $50-million to improve public schools in Los Angeles. Mr. Lundquist is president of Continental Development Corporation, a real-estate company in El Segundo, Calif. The other, from Barbara Dodd Anderson (No. 13), directs $128.5-million to the George School, a Quaker boarding and day school in Newtown, Pa.
Ms. Anderson’s father, David Dodd, taught Mr. Buffett at Columbia University, in New York, and was an early investor in his company, Berkshire Hathaway. Ms. Anderson’s wealth comes from stock in the company.
“Originally my plan was to leave money when I die, but we changed that so it is now available for me to see how well it’s working,” says Ms. Anderson, a 1950 alumna of the school who still maintains close friendships with several classmates. “We said, ‘OK, Warren is doing it in his lifetime.’”
Twenty-three donors claimed a spot on both the 2006 and 2007 Chronicle lists of top donors.
Among them: Philip H. and Penny Knight (tied for No. 17) and Lorry I. Lokey (No. 23), both of whom made major gifts to Stanford University, in Calif., in 2006 and to the University of Oregon, in Eugene, in 2007.
The Knights’ pledge of $100-million to the University of Oregon will support the institution’s sports programs. Mr. Knight co-founded the Nike sportswear company. Mr. Lokey’s pledge of $74.5-million will bolster a variety of programs, mainly in the sciences. Mr. Lokey founded Business Wire, a San Francisco company that distributes news releases.
The pledges helped propel the Oregon university past its $600-million campaign goal to $717-million, and the commitments have also inspired several other donors to pledge contributions of a million dollars, says Allan Price, the vice president for university advancement. “There’s a sense of optimism and excitement that gets created with these big gifts,” he says.
Readers can pose questions to two of the donors on the list during an online discussion on January 22, at noon Eastern time. To ask an advance question or get more details, go to http://philanthropy.com/live.
Candie Jones and Sam Kean contributed to this article.