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10 Most Generous U.S. Donors: 2017

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The biggest philanthropists in the U.S. donated a combined $5.6 billion to nonprofit organizations in 2016, The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported recently.

Donations by the wealthy cohort who populated The Chronicle’s annual Philanthropy 50 list were down from $7 billion in 2015 and $10.2 billion the year before.

The report said several factors accounted for the drop in giving:

  • A relative lack of big bequests, which tend to drive up the total
  • A volatile stock market in 2016, which surged only toward year-end
  • The White House race, which may have diverted some donors’ attention

Tech giants claimed four of the first nine spots on this year’s ranking. All told, the nine who made the list gave away some $1.2 billion, more than 20% of the total for the Philanthropy 50.

Sixteen donors on the list build their fortunes in finance; they gave slightly less than $1 billion.

The bulk of donations from the Philanthropy 50 last year — nearly half — went to colleges and universities, the report said, noting that these institutions could come under scrutiny on Capitol Hill this year as Congress considers tax changes.

Museums netted $293 million in Philanthropy 50 gifts, the most since at least 2012. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art received two Philanthropy 50 gifts worth a combined $75 million, and New York’s Museum of Modern Art received a $100 million gift.

Philanthropy 50 donors contributed at least $328 million to donor-advised funds last year, more than double the $157 million total from 2015.

The report noted that only one of President Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees, many of whom are wealthy, has ever appeared on the Philanthropy 50.

Betsy DeVos, confirmed Tuesday as education secretary in a tiebreaking vote by the vice president, appeared on the list in 2006 along with her husband and his siblings, who together gave $50 million to Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The Chronicle based its annual ranking of America’s most generous donors primarily on gifts and pledges of cash, land and stock to organizations with charity or foundation status under section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code. It counted gifts donors made to their family foundations, though not disbursements from those foundations to avoid double-counting.

The Chronicle said some of the country’s biggest donors do not appear on the current list even though they may have given large gifts to charity last year because the rankings count multiyear pledges only once, as a single lump sum in the year the commitment was made.

For example, Warren Buffett is absent from the 2016 list even though he gave the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation stock in his Berkshire Hathaway investment firm valued at upward of $2 billion, an annual installment on his 2006 pledge of more than $30 billion in Berkshire shares to the foundation.

Check out 20 Most Generous U.S. Donors: 2016 on ThinkAdvisor.

Following are the 10 biggest donors of the year, according to The Chronicle:

Stamford Hospital

10. Kenyon Gillespie

Total giving: $108 million (bequest)

Location: Seatauket, New York

Wealth source: Family wealth; investments

Top cause: Medical care

Biggest gift: Stamford Hospital Foundation — $54 million Bill Gates and his wife Melinda. (Photo: AP) 

9. Bill and Melinda Gates

Total giving: $141.4 million

Location: Medina, Washington

Wealth source: Technology

Top cause: Various

Biggest gift: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

8. Pierre and Pam Omidyar

Total giving: $173 million

Location: Honolulu

Wealth source: Technology

Top cause: Various

Biggest gifts: Omidyar Network, Humanity United, Democracy Fund, HopeLab

Charles Munger

7. Charles Munger

Total giving: $200 million

Location: Santa Barbara, California

Wealth source: Investments

Top cause: Student housing

Biggest gift: University of California at Santa Barbara

Larry Ellison, co-founder and CEO of Oracle Corp. (Photo: AP) 

6. Larry Ellison

Total giving: $271.4 million

Location: Redwood Shores, California

Wealth source: Technology

Top cause: Medical research

Biggest gift: University of Southern California — $200 million

John Arnold, founder of Centaurus Energy (Photo: AP)

5. John and Laura Arnold

Total giving: $284 million

Location: Houston

Wealth source: Finance

Top cause: Various

Biggest gift: Laura and John Arnold Foundation — $183 million

Paul Allen, Founder of Vulcan Capital and co-founder of Microsoft, owner of Seattle Seahawks (Photo: AP)

4. Paul Allen

Total giving: $295 million

Location: Seattle

Wealth source: Technology

Top cause: Various

Biggest gifts: Arts and culture, brain and cell science, climate change and ocean health, global health, Pacific Northwest groups, wildlife conservation

Howard and Lottie Marcus.

3. Howard and Lottie Marcus

Total giving: $400 million (bequest)

Location: Great Neck, New York

Wealth source: Investments

Top cause: Higher education

Biggest gifts: American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Michael Bloomberg, former New York City Mayor. (Photo: AP) 

2. Michael Bloomberg

Total giving: $600.1 million

Location: New York

Wealth source: Media and entertainment

Top cause: Various

Biggest gifts: Arts, education, environment, public health groups, programs aimed at improving city governments around the world

Phil Knight, co-founder and the chairman of Nike. (Photo: AP)

1. Phil and Penny Knight

Total giving: $900 million

Location: Portland, Oregon

Wealth source: Manufacturing

Top cause: Scientific research

Biggest gift: University of Oregon—$500 million

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