The economic malaise that has gripped the country for the last few years continues to have an impact on charitable giving, according to Maria Di Mento of Chronicle of Philanthropy. The downturn in big-gift giving is striking: “The 10 biggest gifts donated by Americans in 2010 totaled slightly more than $1.3-billion, compared with $2.7-billion in 2009 and $8-billion in 2008.”
The downturn is likely not newsworthy/surprising in itself, but Ms. Di Mento also points out the unsettling fact that the biggest donations are going to well-established institutions, not to those truly needing help to overcome the same economic crisis that has curtailed charitable giving.
According to her reading of The Chronicle’s table of gift giving, “While 2010 was not the worst year for giving by the country’s wealthiest Americans, it came close. In the 13 years The Chronicle has been compiling the list of the biggest gifts of the year, the total dropped below $1.4-billion only once, in 2003, when big gifts totaled $1.2-billion.” As we noted yesterday concerning The Chronicle‘s table of biggest gifts, universities were by far the most common recipients. Of the universities in the list of top 18 that we mentioned, four received money to expand or establish schools of business and/or management.
Ithat analysts of charitable giving should always challenge – but not berate – donors to give to organizations that do the best good work that the donors want to support. Perhaps some challenge should have been given to donations such as these top 18. Certainly (higher) education should be part of a donor’s portfolio, and (higher) education is an absolute necessity for a democratic civil society.
But surely Oxford University can survive the current economic crisis with less than a $117.2 million donation to establish a school of government? Ms. Di Mento makes the point with better diplomacy:
Despite the recession’s debilitating effects on so many Americans, few of the very wealthiest donors gave to programs that directly help those in need. Of all the donations on the list, almost half were for new buildings or campus expansion at universities. Two philanthropists, however, made gifts meant to help struggling young people. Mr. Pickens earmarked his Oklahoma State gift to endow scholarships while Mr. Zuckerberg’s money will be used to help improve schools in one of America most poverty-ridden cities.
If the gifts are smaller and/or fewer during The Great Recession – and they are both – then charitable organizations and their fundraisers need to have their best game to sway donors towards institutions and causes more in need (not, I suggest, ‘more deserving’). Otherwise we run the risk of the few wildly successful businesspeople giving to organizations that ensure a new generation of a few wildly successful businesspeople (who give to the organization that ensures…). Such self-preservation is traditionally called an ‘aristocracy.’