Number and Size of Mega-Gifts Fell in 2009

The ten biggest gifts donated by Americans in 2009 totaled $2.7 billion, down from $8 billion in 2008 and more than $4 billion in 2007, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports.

In all, seven gifts of $100 million or more were made last year — a significant falloff from 2008, when at least fifteen philanthropists announced gifts of that size. And it wasn't just mega-philanthropists who cut back on their giving; seven-figure gifts were down overall. Indeed, the number of gifts of $1 million or more announced between January 1 and December 15 of 2009 totaled nearly $3.7 billion, down from $12 billion year-over-year. But even in the worst recession in memory, 2009 was not the worst year for giving by the wealthiest Americans. In the dozen years the Chronicle has been compiling its list of the year's top-ten gifts, the total was $2 billion or less on four occasions — 1998, 2002, 2003, and 2005.

Despite the challenging year, the largest donation of 2009 was substantial: John C. Haas, the 91-year-old heir to the Rohm & Haas Company fortune, gave $747 million to the William Penn Foundation in December for programs to benefit the Philadelphia region. The second-largest gift was from investment managers Stanley and Fiona Druckenmiller, who gave $705 million to their family foundation, which supports medical research, education reform, and anti-poverty efforts. Meanwhile, several of the gifts on the list were designed to meet needs caused or exacerbated by the recession. For instance, real estate developer J. Ronald Terwilliger pledged $100 million to Habitat for Humanity in May to support the organization's efforts to provide affordable housing to people around the world, while longtime philanthropist and patron of the arts Louise Nippert gave $85 million in December to help support Cincinnati arts groups and preserve the high quality of classical music in the Queen City.

To view the complete list, visit the Chronicle of Philanthropy Web site.

Maria Di Mento. "America's Wealthiest Donated $2.7-Billion in 2009, a Sharp Drop From 2008." Chronicle of Philanthropy 12/31/2009.