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“Occupy Philanthropy?” Study Examines Givers and the Wealth Gap

February 15, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - "The super rich grew more charitable last year, as public opinion of them became less so," according to a report compiling the donations of the nation's wealthiest givers.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy's annual list shows the top 50 most generous Americans gave a median of $61 million in 2011, up from about $40 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? Caroline Preston, the study's co-author, 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."

It's likely last year's stock market rebound played as much or more of a role, she says.

The intensified national conversation about America's "haves" and "have nots" has the philanthropy community looking for signs that the dialog is having an effect on charitable donors, she says.

"Some people say that it could stir greater generosity, particularly to direct needs or to programs to try to create jobs. 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 talked 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 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 study also showed that far more money was donated to large foundations, universities, hospitals and medical research than to smaller social-service organizations.

The Chronicle's research is online at philanthropy.com.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV