Signs of a big change in ways top philanthropists give are evident in a new ranking of America’s most-generous donors released today by The Chronicle of Philanthropy and the online magazine Slate. A growing number of top donors are funneling money into ambitious projects to solve global and societal challenges, instead of simply choosing to support traditional causes at colleges, hospitals, museums or other nonprofit organizations.

The recession’s effects on major giving were evident: The collective total given by the country’s top 50 philanthropists in 2009 ($4.1-billion) barely topped one-quarter the 2008 total ($15.5-billion). But the donors who make this elite list are becoming more creative in their giving: As fewer donate to erect new buildings or support hospitals, a growing number use philanthropy to launch or advance think-tank type operations designed to address major problems and to encourage charities to collaborate in new ways.

“Wealthy Americans increasingly see philanthropy as way to catalyze big changes in society, rather than choosing only to write a check for a new building or to further existing projects,” said Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy. “More and more top donors now put their money, clout and vision into fueling the development of new ideas and shaping future leaders – whether in education, business ethics, economics or climate change.”

Patty Stonesifer, chair of the Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents and a senior adviser to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, noted in her introduction to this year's Slate 60 list of top donors that a growing number of America's wealthy are striving to become not merely givers, but Great Givers – donors who give big, give now, and give for social impact. The Slate 60 is based on research and analysis by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

"The Slate 60 is a project that shines a light on truly grand acts of generosity," said David Plotz, editor of Slate, which first published a list of the country’s top five dozen donors in 1996. "We're thrilled to bring our readers this feature for the 14th year in a row, and delighted to have Patty Stonesifer, America's most admired philanthropy executive, explain which gifts will make the most difference and why."

The top-10 most-generous donors in 2009 were:

1. Stanley and Fiona Druckenmiller, $705-million to the Druckenmiller Foundation

2. John M. Templeton (Bequest), $573-million to Templeton Foundation

3. Bill and Melinda Gates, $350-million to the Gates Foundation

4. Michael R. Bloomberg, $254-million to 1,358 groups

5. Louis Nippert, $185-million to Greenacres Foundation

6. George Soros, $150-million: $100-mil to establish Fund for Policy Reform; $50-mil to Central European U.)

7. Eli and Edythe L. Broad, $105.2-million to Broad Foundations

8. J. Ronald and Frances Terwilliger, $102-million: $100-mil to Habitat for Humanity Intl.; $2-mil to other groups

9. William P. Clements Jr., $100-million to Southwestern Medical Foundation

10. Pierre and Pam Omidyar, $92-million: $50-mil to Hawaii Community Foundation; $41-mil to HopeLab and Humanity United; $1-mil to U. of Hawaii

Compiled by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, this annual list of the country’s most-generous donors was posted on line today as the Philanthropy 50 at http://philanthropy.com/philanthropy_50, and as the Slate 60 at the online magazine Slate.com. In addition, the full list will appear in the February 11 issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s print version.

About America’s Top Donors: Philanthropy 50 and Slate 60

The Chronicle of Philanthropy ( http://philanthropy.com) has researched and published its annual list of America’s 50 most-generous donors since 2000, and also provides the information to the online magazine Slate ( www.slate.com) for its Slate 60 list. To compile the list, researchers at The Chronicle of Philanthropy begin with information it has published in the last year about donations of $1-million or more from individuals, and conducts additional research on wealthy people and their donations to charitable organizations in the last year.

The ranking is based on gifts and pledges of cash and stock to nonprofit institutions classified as charities or foundations under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. It does not include gifts from anonymous donors. While every effort is made to include large contributions made by individuals or couples during the last calendar year, not all donors disclose information about their gifts publicly nor are they required by law to do so. To avoid counting the same gift twice, the list does not include payments that donors made on pledges announced in previous years, nor does it include gifts that donors made from their family foundations to a beneficiary (only gifts donors make to foundations are included).

About The Chronicle of Philanthropy ( http://philanthropy.com )

The Chronicle of Philanthropy, established in 1988, is an independent biweekly national newspaper covering all aspects of philanthropy and charitable organizations. With more than 100,000 readers worldwide, it is the No. 1 news source, in print and online, for charity leaders, fund raisers, grant makers, and other people involved in the philanthropic enterprise. The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s research team has compiled and publishes the Philanthropy 50 or “America’s Top Donors” list every year since 2000; it also provides the information to the online magazine, Slate, for its “Slate 60” list.

About Slate ( www.slate.com )

Slate is a daily magazine on the Web. Founded in 1996, we offer analysis and commentary about news, politics, culture, business, law, and technology. Slate's strong editorial voice and witty take on current events have been recognized with numerous awards, including the National Magazine Award for General Excellence Online and the Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism. Slate reaches 6 million unique visitors per month, and is published by the Slate Group, an online publishing subsidiary of the Washington Post Co. (NYSE: WPO)

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