- Bill and Melinda Gates topped the list with $3.4 billion to their foundation (although $2.7 billion of that was just a pledge.) It's good to be a Gates! It's also good to be a librarian, as Global Libraries are one of the Gates Foundation's major funding priorities. My wife's a librarian, so I know how vitally important these institutions are, and how rarely they get the attention they deserve.
- Pierre and Pam Omidyar came in at # 7 with $173 million to their foundation, which has been reinvented as the Omidyar Network. I hate to rain on this parade of generosity, but I'm still a little skeptical of this new enterprise. I understand the desire to be something more than an old-school foundation that just writes checks, but I'm not sure that the Omidyars have achieved that goal. The new site--and the organization itself?--seems to revolve around...discussion boards. I'm hoping there's more to it that I'm just not aware of--perhaps someone will clue me in. To the Omidyars' credit, apparently they also gave away another $79 million--they didn't tell Slate who they gave it to, for some reason, but at least they're spreading it around.
- At # 9, Sidney Frank, who gave and pledged $142 million, including more than $100 million to my alma mater, Brown University. Yes, I realize that's noteworthy primarily to me, but hey, it's my site.
- Right behind Sid at # 10 is Mr. Mayor himself: Michael Bloomberg gave $138 million to various causes.
- Oprah Winfrey clocked in at # 24, giving $50 million to her foundations.
And the folks who just missed the list are worth a special mention, too. According to Slate's Jodie T. Allen:
Donald E. and Violet Himebaugh finished 61st, just keeping them off the Slate 60. The Himebaughs bequeathed $16.3 million to the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region in Appleton, Wis. Donald Himebaugh had worked as an accountant and office manager for a grocery wholesaler in Appleton, and his wife was a Spanish teacher at a local high school. Apparently the Himebaughs amassed their fortune through careful saving and investment. Their final bequest, comprising their entire estate, followed upon earlier gifts to the foundation.
The primary purpose of the list is to inspire some competitive giving among the plutocrats, and if the increased amounts are any indication, it's working. Samuel and Aline Skaggs topped the first Slate 60 in 1996 with a $100 million gift--they'd be tied for 13th place today.
But I also hope the list serves to highlight the importance of individual giving in general. Total charitable giving in the U.S. was just under $241 billion in 2002, according to the American Association of Fundraising Counsel, and the vast majority of that--over 76%, or nearly $184 billion--came from individuals. (Corporate giving and foundation grants together accounted for just over 16%, or $39 billion, and bequests accounted for the rest.)