America's Biggest Donors Increasingly Looking to Address Social Problems, New Ranking Suggests

America's Biggest Donors Increasingly Looking to Address Social Problems, New Ranking Suggests

A growing number of major donors are funneling money into ambitious projects designed to address global and societal challenges instead of simply choosing to support nonprofit entities such as hospitals, museums, and colleges, the Chronicle of Philanthropy and Slate magazine report.

According to the latest edition of the annual Slate 60 list, the effects of the economic downturn on major giving were plainly evident in 2009, as the $4.1 billion given to nonprofit and charitable causes by the top fifty philanthropists in 2009 was barely more than a quarter of the $15.5 billion given by the top fifty in 2008. Topping the list, which first appeared in Slate in 1996 and has been compiled since 2000 by the Chronicle, were Stanley and Fiona Druckenmiller, who gave $705 million to the Druckenmiller Foundation, and the late John M. Templeton, who left $573 million to the John Templeton Foundation. Other major gifts were made by Bill and Melinda Gates ($350 million), George Soros (three large gifts totaling $300 million), Michael R. Bloomberg ($254 million), and Cincinnati arts patron Louise Nippert ($185 million).

Despite the economic downturn, the editors at Slate and the Chronicle argue that many donors on the list are becoming more creative in their giving, with fewer of them content to give large sums for traditional brick-and-mortar projects and a growing number using their philanthropic investments to address major social problems or encourage charities to collaborate in new ways.

"Wealthy Americans increasingly see philanthropy as way to catalyze big changes in society, rather than choosing only to write a check for a new building or to further existing projects," said Chronicle editor Stacy Palmer. "More and more top donors now put their money, clout, and vision into fueling the development of new ideas and shaping future leaders — whether in education, business ethics, economics or climate change."