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Philanthropy By America's Big Givers Rebounds

February 14, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS - The super-rich grew more charitable last year, even as public opinion of them became less charitable, according to a report compiling donations by the nation's wealthiest givers. 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 Occupy Wall Street movement had an impact on these billionaires, with its public focus on income disparity? The study's co-author, Caroline Preston, says she has seen "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 reshape their giving as a result of the scrutiny that they're under."

She believes it is likely that last year's stock market rebound played as much, or more, of a role. The study also showed far more money was donated to large foundations, universities, hospitals and medical research than to smaller social service organizations.

Preston says the intensified national conversation about the "haves" and the "have-nots" in America has the philanthropy community looking for signs that 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're 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.

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 research is online at

Leigh DeNoon, Public News Service - IN