Abbreviated From The Chronicle of Philanthropy
By Maria Di Mento and Caroline Preston
The year 2010 brought a lot of talk of philanthropy by the super-rich—but not much giving. Despite more than 50 billionaires announcing last year that they would ultimately devote at least half of their wealth to charity, few made big gifts in 2010. Just 17 people on The Chronicle’s annual list of the 50 most-generous donors also appeared on Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 wealthiest Americans.
Donors and nonprofit officials said fears of the economy sliding back into recession and uncertainty about tax rules combined to shrink big giving. But with the federal estate tax and deduction limits resolved, at least temporarily, and warnings about a double-dip recession having faded, 2011 could be rosier.
“I’m optimistic about it; people will take some of this certainty and turn it into philanthropy,” said Richard A. Mittenthal, president of the TCC Group, which consults with philanthropies and nonprofits. Said Eli Broad (No. 5 on the Philanthropy 50), the real-estate mogul turned philanthropist: “I think 2011 will be a far better year for philanthropy than 2008, 2009, and 2010.”
A Generational Shift?
While nearly half of the gifts of $5-million or more made by people on the Philanthropy 50 went to colleges and universities, signs abound that a generational shift is afoot. No big gifts to colleges came from the under-50 set; instead, those youthful donors gave mostly to medical care, human rights, social entrepreneurship, and efforts to improve public schools.
Hospitals and medical centers were the second most popular cause for The Chronicle’s top donors. No donations of $5-million or more went to social-service groups.
Young Donors, New Causes
As usual, mega-wealthy people gave generously to their alma maters and other higher-education institutions. Of the 65 gifts of $5-million or more from donors on The Chronicle’s list, 28 went to colleges and universities.
But the youngest donors on the list favored other causes.
The Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg (tied for No. 10), at age 26 the youngest person ever to appear on The Chronicle’s list, pledged $100-million to help overhaul Newark, N.J.’s school system. The eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife, Pam, (No. 16), both 43, gave $61.5-million, mostly to their philanthropies, which support social entrepreneurship, human rights, and other causes.
The bulk of the $59.3-million that William A. Ackman, a 44-year old hedge-fund manager, and his wife, Karen (No. 17), gave last year went to their foundation, which has joined Mr. Zuckerberg in supporting Newark schools and is also backing social entrepreneurs and human-rights activists.
Whitney Tilson, a 44-year-old hedge-fund manager and friend of Mr. Ackman’s from their Harvard undergraduate days, said he expects the face of big giving to change with his generation.
“I can think of no less needy charity than Harvard,” Mr. Tilson said. “I have to struggle to think of anyone in my age group who has given big money to a traditional charity.”
Caroline Bermudez contributed to this article.