The ninth annual Slate 60.

Analysis of the year's biggest philanthropists.
Feb. 28 2005 5:29 AM

The Ninth Annual Slate 60

America's most generous philanthropists, and where they gave.

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?

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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.

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