Giving By Top Donors Fell in 2010, Survey Finds

The fifty most generous American donors in 2010 committed a combined total of $3.3 billion in new gifts and pledges, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports. The total is the smallest since the Chronicle launched its annual ranking of top donors in 2000.

Of the fifty-four donors on the 2010 "Philanthropy 50" list (there were a number of ties), only nine committed more than $100 million in 2010, compared with eight in 2009, sixteen in 2008 and 2007, and eighteen in 2006. And while more than fifty billionaires signed on to Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett's Giving Pledge in 2010, few made large gifts in 2010. Indeed, the median gift in the Chronicle's survey was $39.6 million, down from $41.4 million in 2009, $69.3 million in 2008, and $74.4 million in 2007.

Topping this year's list was hedge fund manager George Soros, who gave $332 million to his Open Society Foundations; he was followed by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who gave a total of $279.2 million to nearly one thousand charities; businessman T. Denny Sanford, who committed $162.5 million to health and medical organizations; Qualcomm co-founder Irwin M. Jacobs and his wife, Joan, who donated $119.5 million; and Eli and Edythe Broad, who gave $118.3 million to their foundations.

The 2010 rankings also highlighted a generational shift: While nearly half (28 out of 65) of the gifts of $5 million or more were awarded to donors' alma maters and other higher education institutions, most were given by donors age 50 or older, whereas younger philanthropists favored other causes.

Donors and nonprofit officials told the Chronicle that fears of the economy sliding back into recession and uncertainty over tax rules were key factors in reducing the number of large donations. With the chances of a double-dip recession fading, however, and questions about the federal estate tax and charitable deduction limits resolved for the time being, 2011 could see a rebound in large gifts and overall giving.

That, at any rate, was the assessment of real estate mogul-turned-philanthropist Eli Broad (No. 5 on the list), who told the Chronicle, "I think 2011 will be a far better year for philanthropy than 2008, 2009, and 2010."

Maria Di Mento. "After a Frugal Year, 2011 May See a Jump in Top Donors' Giving Chronicle of Philanthropy." Chronicle of Philanthropy 02/06/2011.