Despite Economic Downturn, Some Philanthropists Are Giving More

Even as some wealthy individuals are respnding to the financial crisis and slowing economy by giving less, many of America's top philanthropists are choosing to give more, BusinessWeek reports.

Indeed, the economic downturn has inspired a variety of responses among wealthy Americans, many of whom are being more selective about the issues and causes in which they choose to invest. George Soros, for example, has announced that he will boost his personal giving to help ease the strain on slumping public-sector and nonprofit budgets, while California real estate developer Donald Bren has indicated that he will cut back on his giving. Another Californian, Eli Broad, gave $18 million more to his foundation this year than in 2007, despite taking a hit on his significant position in troubled insurance giant American International Group. And even though the value of Broad's AIG holdings has declined by $375 million since June 30, his foundation recently announced a $400 million grant — its largest ever — to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to fund genomic research.

Then there's Wall Street billionaire and former U.S. Commerce Secretary Pete Peterson, a newcomer to the list, who committed $1 billion to create the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which works to increase public awareness of the nature of the debt and entitlements crises that threaten America's future. The foundation's first big initiative, a documentary called I.O.U.S.A., was released on August 21, shortly before the credit and equity markets went into a tailspin, and the foundation has been flooded with requests for special screenings from universities, retirement centers, and nonprofits ever since.

Elsewhere, IT entrepreneur Harvey Najim, who earlier this year pledged $200 million to children's causes in his hometown of San Antonio, has vowed to maintain his level of giving, but is taking a businesslike approach to his philanthropy. "I have a fiduciary responsibility," he said, "to make sure that I invest the money and invest it properly."

Lawrence Delevingne. "Feeling Pinched, Some U.S. Philanthropists Give More." Business Week 11/25/2008.