Are Wealthy Donors Giving Enough?
Don’t worry, we know multimillion-dollar gifts are never anything to sneeze at. But the sizable shift in major-gift amounts from some of the wealthiest donors and their foundations is worth watching. And, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual ranking of the year’s top 10 biggest, publicly announced, single gifts, deep pockets were significantly shallower in 2015 than 2014.
While the totals from 2015 and 2014 (and 2013, for that matter) were nearly identical, hovering around $3.3 billion ($3.4 billion in 2013), there are other factors to consider.
Due to ties, this year’s list features 24 gifts, as opposed to 2014’s list, which featured 10 gifts. That means, with a sum total of $3.28 billion in 2015, the average gift on the list is $1.37 million. In 2014, with a sum total of $3.31 billion, the average gift equaled $3.31 million. That’s a substantial difference.
And while a strong showing of $100 million gifts make the list—the most prevalent amount on the list with 13 donations of that size—we can’t compare it to 2014, because the lowest amount on that list was $110 million. To put it another way: Only five donation amounts—$605 million, $400 million, $177 million, $150 million and $125 million—from this year were larger than the tenth largest amount from 2014 ($110 million).
In 2015, the largest gift was $605 million, the second lowest amount to top the list since 2008. The largest gift in 2014 was $1 billion; in 2013, $992.2 million; in 2012, three $1.03 billion pledges from Warren Buffet; in 2011, $800 million; in 2010, $117 million; in 2009, $747 million; and in 2008, $4.5 billion.
So, should we be concerned by the steep decline in the sizes of the top gifts received or should we triumph the stability of the list’s sum total?
Here are some other highlights from the list:
- The biggest gift of the year came from John Santikos, founder of Santikos Theatres, who left a $605 million bequest to the San Antonio Area Foundation in order to establish the John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation, which will support people in need; youth and education; public libraries, parks and museums; arts and culture; and medicine, healthcare and medical research. It marks the San Antonio Area Foundation’s largest gift, and the largest single gift on record in San Antonio, Texas.
- Seattle insurance executive Donald Sirkin left a $125 million bequest to the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Sirkin had never previously donated to the organization or used its services, but left the majority of his estate to it. The transformative gift was more than 15 times the organization’s annual budget. In an attempt to learn more about Sirkin, the organization’s director went to Seattle, where he interviewed Sirkin’s friends and colleagues and, based on Sirkin’s reclusiveness and living quarters, deduced that Sirkin was also losing his sight, according to a KQED News podcast.
- Out of 24 gifts, David Geffen, the founder of Geffen Records and co-founder of DreamWorks Studios, is the only name to appear twice. Geffen made two $100 million pledges, one to create a new college-preparatory academy for the University of California at Los Angeles and one to renovate New York Philharmonic’s concert hall at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Due to the gift, the Philaharmonic Hall has been renamed David Geffen Hall.
- While Mark Zuckerberg and wife, Priscilla Chan, made the list with their $75 million gift (through their donor-advised fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation) to support the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation’s acute-care and trauma center, their highly criticized donation of $45 billion in Facebook shares to charity did not qualify for the list, as none of that pledge has yet been committed to specific nonprofits.
To view 2015's complete list, click here.