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“Occupy Philanthropy?” Givers and the Wealth Gap Examined

February 10, 2012

PORTLAND, Maine - A report compiling the donations of the nation's wealthiest givers says, "The super rich grew more charitable last year, as public opinion of them became less so." The Chronicle of Philanthropy's annual list shows the top 50 most-generous Americans gave a median amount of $61 million in 2011, up from $39.6 million the previous year.

Does that mean the public focus on income disparity generated by the Occupy Wall Street movement had an impact on these billionaires? The study's co-author, Caroline Preston, says she saw "some signs that the wealthy are zeroing in on these issues..."

"But I don't think that, at least yet, we're seeing any big move by the super-wealthy to re-shape their giving as a result of the scrutiny that they're under."

She says it's likely last year's rebound in the stock market played as much, or more, of a role.

Preston says the intensified national conversation about the "haves" and the "have-nots" in America has the philanthropy community looking for signs it is having an effect on charitable donors.

"Some people say that it could stir greater generosity, particularly to direct needs or to programs to try to create jobs. And others think that it could cause wealthy people who may feel like they are being targeted to be more quiet about their giving."

Preston says her publication did talk to one billionaire who thought that one of Occupy Wall Street's goals - more and better jobs for college graduates - was worthy of addressing through giving.

"It does seem to be causing some people to take a closer look at, for example, how to tie the education funding that they may have been doing to job creation."

The study also showed far more money was donated to large foundations, universities, hospitals and medical research than to smaller social service organizations.

The Chronicle says rich people and the fundraisers who pursue them are expecting higher levels of giving this year and next, assuming the economy continues to improve.

The Chronicle's research is at philanthropy.com

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - ME