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The Most Generous Philanthropists of 2005: Who They Are ... and Where All Their Money Came From

The nation's leading philanthropists donated $4.3 billion to charity in 2005, according to a new Chronicle of Philanthropy survey. The Chronicle ranks the 60 people who give the most money to charitable causes each year -- the 2005 list includes 63 donors because of ties.

Philanthropists donated $4.3 billion to charity in 2005 -- down from over $10 billion in 2004.

While the more than $4 billion in donations is a hefty sum, Americans gave much less in 2005 than in 2004, when more than $10 billion in donations were given.

"There remains a tremendous amount of money in the woodwork that could be philanthropic," says H. Peter Karoff, founder of the Philanthropic Initiative, a Boston-based group that advises donors. "People continue to hold back -- one reason, not being sure how they can make a difference."

"Americans were incredibly generous," says David L. Giunta, president of the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund in Boston, "[but] we are certainly not back in the roaring late '90s."

Most Donations Given to Higher Education

Colleges and universities were the biggest "winners" in last year's donations, receiving 44 gifts. The next highest category for donations was hospitals and medical centers, which received 18 gifts.

Four donors gave to Stanford University in California, making it the educational institution that received the most charity in 2005. Their gifts included a $30-million pledge from Robert M. and Anne T. Bass for the business school.

Public universities and even community colleges are also benefiting from donations. The University of Maryland at College Park, for instance, received three $30-million pledges from three of its alumni to form a new bioengineering department and support other existing programs.

Says Brodie Remington, Maryland's vice president for university relations, "State funding for public higher education is on the decline. If we are to be a top-quality university, which is absolutely our goal, and continue to have affordable access, the difference is going to be philanthropic support."

The largest donor in 2005 was the late Cordelia Scaife May, who donated $404 million in cash and property.

The Top Two Donors of 2005

Placing first on the list of most generous donors is the late Cordelia Scaife May, who left $404 million in cash and property. The bulk of the donation went to her foundation, the Colcom Foundation in Pittsburgh, which supports the environment, stricter immigration limits in the United States and other causes. The foundation was named for one of May's favorite books, "Cold Comfort Farm."

May also willed about $3-million worth of 34 acres of pasture and 35 acres of waterfront property to the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii. She also donated a $1 million plot to the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kauai, Hawaii.

"My sister was an extraordinarily generous individual during her lifetime, contributing to a variety of causes," said Dick Scaife, May's brother. "I am pleased to see both her generous spirit and the recognition of it extended beyond her life."

May inherited her money from the Mellon banking fortune.

Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft, and his wife, Melinda, placed second on the list (a notch down from their number one ranking in 2004). Their donation was a $320-million payment of their 2004 pledge of $3.35-billion to their foundation.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supports education, global health, libraries and charities in the Pacific Northwest.

The Top 15 Donors

Following are the top 15 donors of the 63 most-generous philanthropists of 2005, from the Chronicle of Philanthropy's survey.

1. Cordelia Scaife May
Source of wealth: Family wealth
Donation: $404 million (bequest)
Biggest beneficiary: Colcom Foundation
Other key beneficiaries: Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, National Tropical Botanical Garden
Background: Mrs. May inherited money from the Mellon banking fortune.

2. William H. (Bill) III and Melinda F. Gates
Source of wealth: Technology
Donation: $320 million
Beneficiary: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Background: Mr. Gates is co-founder and chairman of Microsoft and both are top officials of their foundation, created in 2000.

3. Eli and Edythe L. Broad
Source of wealth: Finance, real estate
Donation: $300 million
Biggest beneficiary: Broad Foundations
Other key beneficiaries: Broad Medical Research Program, California Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, University of California at Los Angeles
Background: Mr. Broad is founding chairman of KB Home Corporation and SunAmerica in Los Angeles.

4. George Soros
Source of wealth: Finance
Donation: $240.1 million
Biggest beneficiary: Central European University
Other key beneficiary: Open Society Institute - Baltimore
Background: Mr. Soros chairs Soros Fund Management, a hedge fund-management firm in New York, and the Open Society Institute, a network of foundations.

5. Boone Pickens
Source of wealth: Oil, investments
Donation: $229.2 million
Biggest beneficiary: Oklahoma State University
Other key beneficiaries: American Red Cross, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation, Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children
Background: Mr. Pickens founded Mesa Petroleum and BP Capital Management in Dallas.

6. David Rockefeller
Source of wealth: Family wealth
Donation: $225 million
Biggest beneficiaries: Museum of Modern Art, Rockefeller University
Other key beneficiary: Rhode Island School of Design
Background: Mr. Rockefeller retired as chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank and has an inheritance from the Standard Oil Company fortune

7. Michael Bloomberg
Source of wealth: Media and entertainment
Amount: $144 million
Beneficiaries: Arts, education, health care, and social services charities
Background: Mr. Bloomberg is the mayor of New York and founded Bloomberg L.P., a financial-data and news-service business.

8. Pierre and Pam Omidyar
Source of wealth: Technology
Donation: $133.7 million
Biggest beneficiary: Tufts University
Other key beneficiaries: HopeLab, Omidyar Network
Background: Mr. Omidyar is the founder and chairman of eBay; Ms. Omidyar is founder and chairwoman of HopeLab, which develops technology to help chronically ill children.

9. Ira A. and Mary Lou Fulton
Source of wealth: Real estate
Donation: $122 million
Biggest beneficiary: Arizona State University Foundation
Other key beneficiaries: Brigham Young University, Huntsman Cancer Foundation
Background: Mr. Fulton is the chief executive officer of Fulton Homes, a real estate-development company in Tempe, Ariz.

10. Lawrence J. Ellison
Source of wealth: Technology
Donation: $115 million
Beneficiary: Harvard University
Background: Mr. Ellison is chief executive officer of the Oracle Corporation, a computer-software company in Redwood Shores, Calif.

11. Jan T. and Marica F. Vilcek
Source of wealth: Health products
Donation: $109 million
Biggest beneficiary: New York University School of Medicine
Other key beneficiary: Vilcek Foundation
Background: Dr. Vilcek is a professor at NYU's medical school and Ms. Vilcek is an art historian.

12. David and Cheryl Duffield
Source of wealth; Technology
Donation: $95 million
Biggest beneficiary: Maddie's Fund, an animal-welfare foundation in Alameda, Calif., which they started in 1999.
Background: Mr. Duffield founded the PeopleSoft computer-software company.

13. Josephine F. Ford
Source of wealth: Family wealth
Donation: $90.9 million (bequest)
Biggest beneficiary: College for Creative Studies
Other key beneficiaries: Detroit Institute of Arts, Maine Coast Heritage Trust
Background: Ms. Ford -- the only granddaughter of Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company -- inherited her wealth from the Ford Motor Company fortune.

14. T. Denny Sanford
Source of wealth: Finance
Donation: $70.6 million
Biggest beneficiary: Sioux Valley Hospital
Other key beneficiary: Mayo Foundation
Background: Mr. Sanford is CEO of United National Corporation, First Premier Bank, and Premier Bankcard, in Sioux Falls, S.D.

15. Robert Edward (Ted) Turner
Source of wealth: Media and entertainment
Donation: $70.6 million
Biggest beneficiaries: Better World Fund, United Nations Foundation
Other key beneficiaries: Nuclear Threat Initiative, Peace Parks Foundation, Turner Foundation
Background: Mr. Turner is founder of CNN and TBS, and chairman of Turner Enterprises.

Some may also be interested to know that one other well-known donor, Oprah Winfrey, is ranked 22nd for her $51.8-million donation to the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, Oprah's Angel Network and Oprah Winfrey Operating Foundation.

Why Donate to Charity?

Donating money to a favorite cause is a great morale booster for you -- after all, you know that you will be serving to help others in need. Donating your time by volunteering is another selfless way to give -- and one that's full of return benefits as well.

Along with learning something new, giving yourself an opportunity to make new friends, qualifying for tax deductions, and boosting your confidence and self-esteem, donating your time can actually help to improve your health.

Allan Luks, author of "The Healing Power of Doing Good," describes a "helper's high" that is similar to the high we feel after exercising. And, Luks maintains that volunteering provides:

  • A heightened sense of well-being

  • Relief from insomnia

  • A stronger immune system

  • Speedier recovery from surgery

Not sure how to help? Check out Charity Navigator for some top-rated charities in your area that may be looking for volunteers and/or donations today.

Recommended Reading

How to Get the Greatest Tax Advantages by Donating Money to Charity

The Personal Health & Economic Benefits of Donating Your Time to a Cause


The Chronicle of Philanthropy: America's Most Generous Donors

The Chronicle of Philanthropy: How the Wealthy Give

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Cordila May Tops Givers List

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