In this, the ninth annual compendium of the country’s 60 biggest givers, let us take stock of the State of the Turner Sweepstakes. Back in 1996, when CNN founder Ted Turner, provided the inspiration for Slate’s list of top givers, he expressed the hope that the competitive juices that have nourished America’s great fortunes might spill over more generously into the cup of human kindness. If you made a list, perhaps the rich would compete to top it. Turner himself has done much to set a good example. A perennial on Slate’s lists of top donors, helpfully compiled for the magazine in recent years by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, he secures the No. 18 spot in 2004 with paid gifts totaling $68.1 million spread among foundations and initiatives dedicated to global causes, plus a few educational institutions. But have his fellow magnates been spurred to new heights of generosity?
Judging by last year’s returns, the answer is: They have. First place on the 2004 list goes to Bill and Melinda Gates, with a total $3.4 billion pledged to their eponymous foundation, of which $627 million was paid out. The Gates pledge sets a new record of committed generosity, topping even last year’s $1.91 billion bequest by McDonald’s heiress Joan Kroc. On the first Slate 60 list in 1996, by contrast, a “mere” $100 million gift sufficed to earn first place for grocery and drugstore magnate Samuel Skaggs and his wife Aline.
Total giving also set a record in 2004. Overall, the Slate 60 pledged, paid, and bequeathed a heart-warming $10.1 billion in 2004, up from $5.9 billion in 2003. Less heartening was the relatively small (by the munificent standards of the Slate 60) rise in the total value of gifts made and paid by the living. Though bequests set records, gifts from living people rose from a total of $2.2 billion in 2003 to $2.5 billion in 2004. Perhaps one might have expected a bigger jump in a year in which the economy was said to be in full recovery at last, paychecks and bonuses bounced back on Wall Street, and taxes on businesses and the wealthy continued to decline.
As for the pattern of givers, it has changed only modestly over the years. Investments, family wealth, real estate, and finance still undergird much of today’s philanthropy. The No. 2 place of honor on the 2004 list, for example, is claimed by the late Susan T. Buffett, the wife of famed investor and Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, who bequeathed an estimated $2.55 billion. Approximately $2.4 billion of this will go to the Buffett Foundation in Omaha, of which she was president, which supports education, medical research, and family planning. The remainder will go to other family-run foundations active in such areas as education, wildlife and environmental conservation, the arts, and human services.
Investments also supplied the wealth that enabled international investor John M. Templeton to secure the No. 3 spot for 2004 with his donation of $550 million to his private foundation in Pennsylvania. The John Templeton Foundation describes its mission as “to pursue new insights at the boundary between theology and science.” Through its Freedom Awards and other programs, the foundation also aims to “encourage free-market principles.”
A notable returnee to the top 60 list: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who, with donations totaling $138 million, claims the No. 10 spot on the 2004 list. He had last appeared in 1998. A full list of the mayor’s beneficiaries won’t be available until June, but they include more than 600 organizations that deal with the arts, education, health care, and social services. In September, Princeton University confirmed that a gift from the Bloomberg family will help fund a dormitory on its campus to be named for the mayor’s daughter. (Bloomberg built his fortune from his multimedia financial news service.) Another returnee is Domino’s Pizza founder Thomas S. Monaghan, whose gift of $63.5 million to his Ave Maria Foundation, which supports a variety of Roman Catholic causes and educational institutions, places him at No. 20 on the list.
Technology, however, is now the main font from which philanthropy flows. It’s the source of wealth for 11 listees. The 2004 Slate 60 includes not only Gates and his Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, making return appearances, but also Oracle’s Lawrence J. Ellison, Netscape’s Jim Clark, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar (and wife Pam), Yahoo! co-founder David Filo, and Cisco chairman John P. Morgridge (and wife Tashia) among others.
As usual, athletes and entertainers are in short supply. One notable exception: TV megastar Oprah Winfrey. With a $50 million gift to her foundations for the support of educational programs for women and girls, Winfrey claims 24th place on the overall list (and 11th place ranking by amounts actually paid out rather than pledged by living donors).
We should give special mention to one exceptionally philanthropic family that failed to make the list. Donald E. and Violet Himebaugh finished 61st, just keeping them off the Slate 60.The Himebaughs bequeathed $16.3 million to the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region in Appleton, Wis. Donald Himebaugh had worked as an accountant and office manager for a grocery wholesaler in Appleton, and his wife was a Spanish teacher at a local high school. Apparently the Himebaughs amassed their fortune through careful saving and investment. Their final bequest, comprising their entire estate, followed upon earlier gifts to the foundation.
What, if anything, can be said about changes in the “quality” of Slate 60 giving? As noted when Slate first launched the competition, “the very notion of quality as applied to acts of philanthropy is suspect.” Generosity speaks for itself. Still it is noteworthy that over the course of years, few big-scale philanthropists have been struck with path-breaking ideas for making the world a better place. Alma maters and other institutions of higher learning remain the most popular outlet for munificence (56 colleges and universities make the 2004 list) followed by private foundations (25) and hospitals and medical centers (18). Museums, libraries, and other groups dedicated to the arts are also popular.
The environment crops up here and there, including its appearance as part of the Buffett bequest. Especially notable, and earning the No. 6 place on the 2004 list, is Leo A. and Kay Drey’s gift of 146,000 acres of Ozark land, valued at $180 million, to the L-A-D Foundation, which is charged with ensuring that the land is maintained in a sustainable and environmentally sound condition. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that the Dreys have lived in the same St. Louis house throughout their marriage and sent their children to local public schools, preferring to devote the wealth that Leo Drey derived from his father’s glass company to a plethora of charitable causes. The Dreys have been willing to make long-term commitments to projects and to support low-profile efforts such as the Government Accountability Project, which keeps a sharp eye out for federal malfeasance. Also in the environmental category: a $70 million bequest by Sally Reahard (No. 16) to the Nature Conservancy, part of a total of $94.6 million that included bequests to other organizations devoted to historic and environmental preservation, as well as the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
Monogrammed giving, i.e., the erection, expansion, or restoration of edifices to be named for the benefactors or their family members, is another perennial practice. Unfortunately, such gifts are not always accompanied by adequate long-term provision for future staffing and maintenance. And in the “coals-to-Newcastle” category last year one finds two hefty gifts to already amply endowed Harvard University ($30 million for a new endowment from Albert J. III and Celia Weatherhead and $25 million for its business school from Hansjoerg Wyss).
Some donors, however, are attentive to the less high-profile, but certainly no less welcome, need for maintenance of ongoing activities. Bill and Sue Gross, for example, in their $23.5 million grant to Duke University—part of a total $43.5 million in donations—thoughtfully earmarked some of their gifts for faculty support, perhaps freeing professors to devote more time to teaching and less to ceaseless grubbing for grants. Nancy B. and Charles T. Munger, (he’s vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway) with whom the Grosses are tied for the No. 27 spot, directed their $43.5 million gift to Stanford to build new law-student housing.
A few off-the-beaten-path philanthropists, Oprah Winfrey and the Buffett foundations included, channel their generosity more along the lines of old-fashioned “charity.” Home Depot co-founder and Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur M. Blank (No. 55) added some $18.9 million to the resources of his family foundation, which supports programs that assist low-income families. Like Turner himself, the Gates Foundation continues to invest heavily in the health and welfare of the developing world as well as in educational resources for less-fortunate parts of this country. Part of hedge-fund founder David Tepper and wife Marlene’s $27 million gift to their private foundation will flow through to such organizations as CARE, Good Will Rescue Mission, and the Salvation Army. The Teppers gave an additional $55 million to Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, their total earning them the No. 17 place among the Slate 60.
A $17 million bequest by Ruth L. Kilton (tied at No. 58) will help Rhode Island’s children, elderly, and animals. (Much of Kilton’s fortune was built on Berkshire Hathaway stock.) And a fraction of the nearly $72 million in gifts from Paul G. Allen (No. 18 on the overall list and No. 8 counting only paid amounts by living donors), will go to unspecified health and human service organizations. But these are the exceptions. By and large, America’s top donors avoid the difficult and often unrewarding business of dealing with the needy, preferring instead to put their stamp on more prominent features of the societal landscape.
Slate thanks the Chronicle of Philanthropy for compiling the Slate 60 again this year. We offer an especially grateful nod to editorial assistant Maria DiMento and editor Stacy Palmer for their able, and frequent, help, and to associate editor Marty Michaels for editing the list.