Giving by Nation's Wealthiest in 2012 Did Not Top Pre-Recession Levels, Study Finds

Although the nation's biggest donors committed $7.4 billion to charitable organizations in 2012, big gifts were down significantly from the pre-recession highs of 2007, a new study from the Chronicle of Philanthropy finds.

According to the Chronicle's annual study of the top fifty donors in the U.S., the median gift for the group in 2012 was $49.6 million, down from $74.7 million 2007. The study also found that the lion's share of charitable giving in 2012 was directed to large, elite institutions, with 72 percent of the $7.4 billion in giving awarded to or pledged in support of arts and culture, higher education, not-for-profit hospitals, and private foundations. Topping the list was billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who gave $3.1 billion to family foundations created by his children. The second and third spots on the list were claimed by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, who pledged eighteen million shares of Facebook stock — worth an estimated $500 million — to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and billionaire hedge fund manager John Arnold and his wife, Laura, who donated $423.4 million to their foundation and other groups.

The Chronicle also reported that a number of billionaires under the age of 40 made the list. They include the 28-year-old Zuckerberg, the 39-year-old Arnold, and 39-year-old Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his wife, Anne, who is also 39. In addition, the study found that of the top gifts made last year, eight were awarded to community foundations, and that state budget crises spurred a few of the year's biggest gifts, including one of $50 million from Jonathan and Karin Fielding to the UCLA School of Public Health.

Still, while lingering concerns about the economy and the fate of the charitable deduction haven't stopped the wealthy from giving, the outlook for nonprofits in 2013 is hardly rosy. "[The economy] will put some pressure on nonprofits, in my opinion," said Oracle chairman Jeff Henley, who was tied for number twenty-one on the Chronicle's list. "Not huge pressure, but there will be less money." 

Maria Di Mento. "America's Big Donors Lag in Charitable Giving." Chronicle of Philanthropy 02/10/2013.