Analysis of the year's biggest philanthropists.
Jan. 28 1999 3:30 AM

The 1998 Slate 60

Introduction 

 

Charity in this country is going to the dogs. Cats too. We say that literally, not figuratively. Claiming the No. 3 position on this year's "Slate 60" list of the nation's top donors is a $200 million pledge by David and Cheryl Duffield to assist local humane societies and animal shelters in finding homes for every stray or abandoned dog and cat in America. The Duffields' generosity has already provoked controversy, including a dispute among the readers of Slate's "Dear Prudence" column. (For a sampling, click here and here.)

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But it wasn't a good year only for our furry friends. This year's top givers (there are 65, given ties for last place), many the beneficiaries of a vibrant if erratic stock market, gave a total of $3.7 billion to tax-deductible causes. That's not much above 1997's total of more than $3.1 billion , but last year's sum was swollen by Slate 60 inspirer Ted Turner's pledge of $1 billion to create a foundation to support U.N.-related causes. (We probably shouldn't have credited Turner with the full amount, as it turns out he is transferring it in annual increments. But we compensated by not giving him credit for this year's $100 million tranche, though the CNN founder still makes the list at No. 32 for his $27 million in other 1998 donations.) And it compares favorably with the mere $1.3 billion total for the 1996Slate 60. Moreover, it took a $15 million gift to make this year's cut, whereas in 1997 a piddling $10 million sufficed. Similarly, we've restricted the 1998 "Honorable Mentions" list to donors of $5 million or more, compared with $1 million in earlier years.

The 1998 list is led by James and Virginia Stowers, whose $327 million contribution will create a medical research institute in Kansas City, Mo. (James Stowers built one of the nation's largest families of no-load mutual funds.) Next in line is Martha Ingram, who donated to Vanderbilt University $300 million worth of stock in Ingram Micro, the world's largest wholesale distributor of technology products and services, of which she is a director.

The majority of other donations on the Slate 60, compiled for us once again by philanthropy maven Ann Castle, follow in the Stowers-Ingram pattern. Colleges and universities are the most frequent beneficiaries. Usually the donors are grateful alums, but there are exceptions. The Joseph and Phyllis Mailman family (No. 28) gave a hefty $33 million to Columbia University's School of Public Health, though no family member has attended Columbia. And Robert McDonough (No. 30), who made his fortune from a temporary-worker business, gave $30 million to Georgetown University's business school, though his contact with the school was limited to evening classes at the Jesuit college's School of Foreign Service while he was working the midnight shift as a U.S. Capitol policeman in the 1940s.

(Georgetown was also the fortunate recipient of two gifts totaling $27 million, included on the list of large " Anonymous Gifts," also compiled for Slate by Castle. Still, St. Mary's College in Moraga, Calif., won the anonymous giver stakes, collecting $55 million from two unnamed donors.)

Some philanthropists looked beyond the ivy-covered walls to find unmet needs in neighborhoods and downtowns. Joan Kroc (No. 9), the philanthropically imaginative widow of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc, gave $80 million--of a total of $105 million in 1998 donations--to the Salvation Army to build and operate a community center for all ages in a depressed area of San Diego. Madison, Wis., received $50 million from Jerry Frautschi (tied at No. 16) to develop a downtown cultural district. Walter and Leonore Annenberg (tied at No. 36) earmarked $10 million of their $25 million in donations for Philadelphia's Independence Mall to upgrade it into a major tourist attraction. Daniel and Merlene Phillips (tied at No. 36) pledged $25 million to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Robert and Janice McNair's $22 million (No. 46) will give a big boost to the South Carolina Aquarium. "We know that every child is a precious resource who deserves a good education," the McNairs said. "But schools cannot do the job alone."

The schools, however, especially schools for disadvantaged children, also drew a welcome chunk of this year's largess. Ted Forstmann and John Walton (tied at No. 16) each gave $50 million for a scholarship program to help more than 50,000 public school children around the country attend private schools. Mary and Robert Pew (tied at No. 36) gave $25 million to a fund to improve public education for economically disadvantaged children in Florida's Palm Beach and Martin counties, while Donald and Doris Fisher's $25 million (tied at No. 36) went to the Edison Project to create alternative public schools. Gerard and Lilo Leeds (No. 47) added $21 million to previous gifts to an institute they created that helps likely school dropouts. "There are a lot of worthwhile causes to give money to--the church, the hospitals, the museums," said Gerald Leeds. "We think education is primary. Education can change the world."

Collapsing currencies in Asia and Russia did not keep international speculator George Soros (No. 26) from contributing almost $39 million to various causes, (though that's far less than the $530.5 million he gave in 1997), more than half of it to fund Russia's impoverished public libraries. His brother Paul and Paul's wife Daisy (No. 45) chipped in another $24 million, most of it for graduate education for immigrants and their children. "The big trend in this city [New York] is putting your name on a building, which didn't appeal to my husband," Daisy Soros told the NewYork Times. His monument will have many progeny.

Notably absent from this year's list are any "celebrities," as the term is commonly applied. Despite the vast fortunes accrued by Hollywood and sports stars, none appears among the nation's top givers. The vibrant world of high-tech does make a contribution. In addition to Ingram, noted earlier, Bill and Melinda Gates and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen claim the No. 6 and No. 35 positions with total gifts of $189.57 million and $26 million, respectively. These are distributed among a variety of educational, environmental, and historical preservation causes. Intel co-founder Gordon Moore and his wife Betty (No. 20) gave $47.5 million to Conservation International and to Cambridge University to house the archives of physicist Stephen Hawking. And high-tech financial media pioneer Michael Bloomberg's $45 million gift to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University (tied at No. 21), will primarily aid undergraduates in the arts and sciences and in engineering.

Still, the vast fortunes amassed by the moguls and munchkins of the technology revolution go largely untapped. The residents of the Pacific Northwest, despite their higher than average incomes, are notably chintzy in their charity. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Washington and Oregon rank only No. 31 and No. 40, respectively, among states in average contributions per resident. (Leading the list are Wyoming, Utah, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C.--yes, the nation's much maligned capital city.) The Philanthropy Promotion Initiative, coordinated by a group of the Northwest region's foundations, aims to rectify that by mining the humanitarian impulse buried in the hearts of high-techies. Go for the gold!