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Year in Review: Noteworthy Gifts

December 30, 2010

Philanthropy-1 For many Americans, 2010 was characterized by continuing economic uncertainty and challenges. It was no surprise, therefore, that charitable giving, even among the mega-wealthy, reflected that uncertainty, with the number of gifts of $100 million or more up only slightly over 2009, when seven such gifts were announced, and way down from 2008, when at least fifteen such gifts were announced.

As they often are, educational institutions were the focus of many of the largest gifts, both eight- and nine-figure. In January, the Lawrenceville School, a four-year co-ed boarding school in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, received a $60 million bequest from the estate of Henry C. Woods, an alumnus, former English teacher, and trustee of the school, and his wife, Janie, for scholarships and other programs. Six weeks later, the first nine-figure gifts of the year were announced by two mid-South institutions of higher education: Oklahoma State University, which received a $100 million challenge gift from energy tycoon and alumnus T. Boone Pickens, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, which received an anonymous $200 million bequest in support of medical research related to aging.

A number of healthcare institutions also received major gifts in the early part of the year. In January, the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in La Jolla, California, announced a five-year, $50 million endowment gift from South Dakota businessman T. Denny Sanford to expand and accelerate the institute's cutting-edge medical research. In April, the University of California, San Diego Health System received $75 million from the family of Joan and Irwin Jacobs for a medical center at the school's La Jolla campus. And in June, UCSF Children's Hospital announced a five-year, $100 million gift from Salesforce.com founder, chairman, and CEO Marc Benioff and his wife, Lynne, to support the construction of a new hospital.

No gift received more attention, however, than the $100 million pledged by Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to launch a foundation that will work closely with Newark mayor Cory Booker to improve the long-troubled public school system in that New Jersey city. The gift was especially noteworthy for being the largest made to-date by the 26-year-old entrepreneur, whose fortune Forbes puts at $6.9 billion, and for being many times larger than any gift ever made to the Newark school system.

Other noteworthy gifts announced in the second half of the year included a $100 million challenge grant from the Open Society Foundations to Human Rights Watch; a $100 million pledge from businessman Henry R. Kravis to Columbia Business School; and $50 million each from Cogent Systems founder Ming Hsieh and the Annenberg Foundation to the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. In addition, Georgetown University received an $87 million bequest from Harry J. and Virginia Toulmin to support medical research at the school, while Cornell University announced an $80 million gift from David and Patricia Atkinson to endow the David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, which they had established with a smaller gift in 2007.

The year came to a close with a bang, as two major arts-focused gifts were announced. In November, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded three grants totaling $50 million to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., for efforts to reach underserved K-12 students, expand research and public programs, and support the design and construction of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is scheduled to open on the Mall in 2015. And toward the end of the month, the National Gallery of Art announced what was the largest gift of the year: a collection of more than two hundred pieces of early American furniture assembled by George M. and Linda H. Kaufman that is estimated to be worth more than $250 million.

Indeed, despite the uncertain economic climate, many well-off individuals were willing to dig deep into their pockets to support nonprofits and the causes they believe in. The Benioffs, for example, increased the size of their gift to UCSF Children's Hospital from the $20 million they initially planned to give to $100 million because of the difficult economy. "I had never really thought about doing a $100 million gift. That was significantly more than anything we'd done before," Marc Benioff told the Wall Street Journal. "We strongly believe in giving back to the San Francisco community that has given so much to us, and where the majority of the employees at Salesforce.com live. Additionally, given the decline in personal philanthropic giving and reduced government funding, we recognize that we need to do more."

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