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“Occupy Philanthropy?” Givers and the Wealth Gap Examined

March 9, 2012

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The super-rich grew more charitable last year, according to a report compiling the donations of the nation's wealthiest givers - even as public opinion of them became less so.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy's annual list shows that the top 50 most generous Americans gave a median of $61 million in 2011, up from $39.6 million in 2010.

Does that mean the Occupy Wall Street movement's focus on income disparity 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 reshape their giving as a result of the scrutiny that they're under."

Preston says it's likely last year's rebound in the stock market played as much or more of a role. One foundation in New Mexico reports the giving has increased during the recession, particularly by smaller donors.

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

Randy Royster, who heads the Albuquerque Community Foundation, says its larger donors seem to be holding their wealth a little more closely these days.

"We've seen that level of gift-giving drop. We've even had conversations with those types of donors where they've said, 'We've got the money, but we're waiting to see what's going to happen.'"

New Mexicans are very giving people, Royster says, no matter the national climate. As awareness of the need in the community and beyond increases, he predicts, many people will step up and give. He says the foundation already has seen an increase in smaller gifts.

"Those gifts that are $100, $250, $500 - that level of giving, even up to the $1,000 level - that level of giving has changed quite a bit."

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

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

Beth Blakeman, Public News Service - NM