Giving by Top Fifty U.S. Donors Fell 30 Percent in 2015

Charitable giving by the fifty biggest donors in the United States fell 30 percent in 2015, with gifts from tech entrepreneurs dropping sharply from the previous year, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports.

Donations from the Chronicle's "Philanthropy 50" totaled nearly $7 billion in 2015, the lowest level since 2010, as giving by major Silicon Valley philanthropists fell to $1.3 billion from $5 billion in 2014. Factors behind the decline, according to the Chronicle, include a volatile stock market and the absence of billion-dollar gifts; from 2010 to 2014 at least one such gift  pushed up the total, and in 2014 there were two — the estimated $1 billion that Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson left to his foundation and a $1.9 billion contribution from Bill and Melinda Gates to their foundation. "The drop in 2015 could just be a signal of a return to the norm," Ann Limberg, head of philanthropic solutions at U.S. Trust, told the Chronicle.

Topping this year's list was the late Richard Mellon Scaife, whose bequests totaling $758.9 million to the Allegheny Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation — both of which he once led — were executed last year. Rounding out the top five were the late John L. Santikos, who left an estimated $605 million to the San Antonio Area Foundation; Michael Bloomberg ($510 million); New York financier John Paulson and his wife, Jenny ($400 million); and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife, Pam ($327 million). The Gateses, who topped the list in 2014, fell to sixth place ($272 million). Median giving by those on the list in 2015 was $91 million, just under the 2014 figure of $92.5 million. Of the $7 billion given in total, $2.1 billion were gifts to universities, while $2 billion were gifts to grantmaking foundations.

Silicon Valley Community Foundation CEO Emmett Carson told the Chronicle that stock-market woes were likely to blame for the drop in giving by tech industry titans in 2015. "For potential tech donors, the flat market in 2015 meant that there were fewer initial public offerings, mergers, and acquisitions," said Carson.

Kathleen McCarthy, director of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, said the decline may also reflect the increasing number of wealthy individuals turning to alternative giving vehicles. For example, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, who are not on the Chronicle's list, created a limited liability corporation to fulfill their pledge to commit $45 billion "to advance human potential and promote equality."

"A lot of money is being diverted into new forms of philanthropy," said McCarthy. "Lines between sectors are blurring."

Maria Di Mento, Drew Lindsay. "Bequests Put Conservative Billionaire Richard Scaife Atop List of America’s 50 Biggest Donors." Chronicle of Philanthropy 02/08/2016.