As tensions over wealth gap rise, the rich are giving more
The top 50 charitable donors gave more in 2011: Are the super rich feeling the sting of public opinion?
The super rich grew more charitable last year, as public opinion of them became less so.Skip to next paragraph
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The 50 donors on The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual list of the most generous Americans gave a median of $61 million in 2011, compared with $39.6 million the previous year. Collectively, the philanthropists in The Chronicle’s rankings lavished $10.4-billion on charitable organizations last year, although a single bequest from the agribusiness heiress Margaret A. Cargill accounted for $6 billion of that total.
The über-wealthy cut those checks against a backdrop of increased scrutiny. The Occupy Wall Street movement and growing concerns about an economic divide have made a target of multimillionaires and billionaires, with mixed implications for their philanthropy. While some fundraisers and philanthropy watchers say the rallying cries of the 99 percent may stir greater generosity, particularly to social-service groups, The Chronicle’s numbers don’t show a shift in how the rich are directing their giving.
David Callahan, a senior fellow at Demos, a left-leaning think tank, says that, historically, wealthy donors have stepped forward when concerns about inequity have flared.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first great year of philanthropy coincided with the progressive era, in that you had people like Andrew Carnegie and [John D.] Rockefeller recognize that there are big disparities in society and they had themselves been subject to intense criticism,” he says.
But John C. Malone (No. 28 on The Chronicle’s list), the billionaire chairman of Liberty Media, warns that the “scapegoating” of wealthy individuals might make them more hesitant to give away big money in the public eye, and could even stop them from giving altogether.
“They will either try to do whatever they think is appropriate out of the press, or they will perhaps decide to reallocate their capital,” says Mr. Malone, who last year gave $57 million to Yale University and a public charter-school network.
Melissa Berman, president of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, says the gap between rich and poor is influencing how some wealthy clients think about philanthropy. One new foundation client is zeroing in on human needs in New York, she says, while longtime supporters of education want to ensure their money prepares people for jobs.
But The Chronicle survey shows that the “haves” of the nonprofit world – namely the larger, better-known charities – got the lion’s share of gifts.
Excluding Ms. Cargill’s bequest, 36 percent of the dollars from benefactors on the Philanthropy 50 went to higher education; 35 percent went to private foundations; 15 percent to hospitals, medical centers, and medical research; and 7 percent to museums, libraries, and historic preservation. No Philanthropy 50 donor gave a gift of $5 million or more directly to a social-service group.