JANE WOOLDRIDGE/MC T/NEWSCOM
This year’s ranking of top donors included newcomers
such as Lin Arison (No. 28), an author and the widow
of Ted Arison, founder of Carnival Cruise Lines. She gave
$39-million to a group she and her husband started,
the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts.
PHO TOGRAPHS COURTES Y OF UNIVERSI T Y OF TEXAS AT SAN AN TONIO
Personal connections drove some
of 2010’s biggest gifts. Mary
E. McKinney, a retired
schoolteacher with inherited
wealth who died in 2009, left at
least $25-million to the University
of Texas at San Antonio for
scholarships. While taking classes
there in 1991, she overheard
students complain about tuition
Why America’s Biggest Donors Dig Deep for Their Alma Maters
COLLEGES and universities are the top draw for America’s rich- est donors.
Nearly half of the 65 gifts of $5-mil-
lion or more made by donors on The
Chronicle’s Philanthropy 50 list of the
most-generous donors of 2010 went
to institutions of higher education,
a fact that may rankle some philanthropy critics who question whether
the mega-wealthy are doing enough
to support organizations that serve
people in need.
During the golden years of 2006
and 2007, when big sums were flowing to all kinds of nonprofits, a smaller share of top donors’ big gifts went
to colleges and universities ( 21 out of
93 and 26 out of 89, respectively).
Donors and nonprofit officials say
the popularity of colleges stems from
gratitude people feel toward their
alma maters, the opportunity to support cutting-edge research, and a
sense that strong universities are key
to maintaining America’s competitive
What’s more, many colleges have
big ranks of savvy fund raisers who
begin cultivating students as donors
even before they graduate.
The chance to place one’s name on a
building does not hurt, either.
“There are a group of people who
give to have their names on buildings,
and that’s the easiest place to have
your name on a building. It’s consid-
erably cheaper than Lincoln Center,”
says Edward H. Merrin, an art dealer
who, with his wife, Vivian, were No.
33 on The Chronicle’s list of top do-
nors for their gift to Tufts University,
in Medford, Mass.
Support for Scholarships
But like a handful of university donors in 2010, the Merrins earmarked
their money not for a building but for
“There are a group
of people who give to
have their names on
buildings, and that’s
the easiest place.”
scholarships. Mr. Merrin—who, like
his children, is a graduate of Tufts—
cited the opportunity to change young
people’s lives as influencing his gift.
The donor said that at a meeting
of board members, he heard stories
of bright young students who could
not afford Tufts: “If you’ve ever seen
a board of directors weep, that was
Other donors who earmarked their
gifts for scholarships include T. Boone
Pickens (No. 8), the late Mary E.
McKinney (tied for No. 41), David M.
Rubenstein (No. 40), and Jan T. and
Marica F. Vilcek (No. 44).
Some of the university gifts on this
year’s Philanthropy 50 list were for
unusual centers and programs. Paul
G. Allen (No. 31), a co-founder of Microsoft, pledged $26-million to help
Washington State University build
its School for Global Animal Health,
which conducts research on diseases transmitted from animals to humans.
Mr. Allen has been traveling to Africa more frequently in recent years
and liked the idea of linking his work
there to research at a university he
had attended, according to both the
vice president of his foundation and
Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y.
received $80-million for a new energy
institute from David R. Atkinson, a
retired money manager, and his wife,
Patricia (No. 14).
That continues a trend evidenced on
last year’s Philanthropy 50 list, when
four of the top donors made gifts to
help universities conduct research on
While young donors seem to be favoring other causes, nonprofit experts
say universities aren’t likely to lose
their allure for top donors any time
“Even the wealthiest universities
and wealthiest cultural institutions
can tell you how much better they
would do and how many more people they would serve if they had more
money,” says Richard A. Mittenthal,
president of the TCC Group, which
consults with nonprofits and philanthropies. “That’s a compelling argument.”
—MARIA DI MENTO
AND CAROLINE PRESTON