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Devin D. Thorpe

Devin Thorpe

Megagifts Rise in 2016, With 12 Topping $100 Million

By Maria Di Mento

Wealthy donors doubled up on gifts of more than $100 million to American nonprofits this year, according to a Chronicle analysis. Last year only six donations topped that figure, compared with 12 in 2016. There were also six gifts of exactly $100 million.

Tied for the largest gift of 2016 were investor and art collector Nicolas Berggruen and Nike co-founder Phil Knight and his wife, Penny. Both Mr. Berggruen and the Knights donated $500 million in support of big-idea efforts.

Mr. Berggruen gave the money through a charitable trust to endow his Berggruen Institute, a public-policy think tank he started in 2010 to address some of the world’s most important societal and political issues. The money will also go toward building the organization’s headquarters in Los Angeles.

The Knights’ pledge to the University of Oregon establishes the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. The money will help the university build a cluster of research centers aimed at speeding up discoveries and the development of medical treatments that could grow out of those findings.

The next-largest gifts were also an equal pair. The Knights gave $400 million to Stanford University to launch the Knight-Hennessy Scholars, a program for graduate students from varying backgrounds and countries who are focused on solving pressing global problems. That tied with a $400 million bequest from Lottie and Howard Marcus — representing the bulk of their estate — to American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev for an endowment and to back the Israeli university’s water research.

Ms. Marcus died last year, and her husband died in 2014. He was a physician, but the couple’s wealth came primarily from their investment in Berkshire Hathaway, the result of a friendship they formed in the early 1960s with Warren Buffett.

Public Health

The fifth- and sixth-biggest donations came from media mogul and ex-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and were both focused on public-health programs.

The foundation gave $360 million to six organizations for anti-tobacco efforts in the United States and abroad: the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the CDC Foundation, the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the World Health Organization, and Vital Strategies.

Mr. Bloomberg also directed a $300 million grant to Johns Hopkins to launch the Bloomberg American Health Initiative. The program aims to address five public-health issues: adolescent health, drug addiction, environmental threats, gun violence, and obesity.

This year’s Chronicle list also features a relatively rare entry: a self-made female donor. Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg gave $107.2 million to her donor-advised fund at Fidelity Charitable.

Ms. Sandberg hasn’t said where the money will go, but in the past she has supported nonprofits that help women and girls.

Science and Medical Research

Of the 18 nine-figure donations, half went to universities to support a variety of causes. Four such gifts primarily backed scientific and medical research, two went toward scholarships, and the others supported student housing; science, technology, engineering, and math efforts; and health programs.

The Chronicle’s annual rankings are based on the 10 biggest publicly announced gifts. Often more than 10 gifts appear on the list because of ties, as was the case this year.

The tally does not include donations of artwork or gifts from anonymous donors.

In February, The Chronicle will unveil its annual ranking of the 50 most generous donors, a list based on total contributions in 2016, not just single gifts.

Biggest Gifts Announced by Individuals and Their Foundations in 2016



Purpose or beneficiary
$500 millionNicolas Berggruen Charitable Trust; Nicolas Berggruen, an art collector and investorBerggruen Institute, to endow the public-policy think tank
$500 million (pledge)Phil Knight, a co-founder of Nike, and his wife, PennyUniversity of Oregon, to establish a new center for scientific research
$400 million (pledge)Phil and Penny KnightStanford University, to establish the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program
$400 million (bequest)Howard Marcus, a physician, and his wife Lottie, an investorAmerican Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev for endowment and water research
$360 millionBloomberg Philanthropies; Michael Bloomberg, a former mayor of New York and founder of the Bloomberg financial-news empireCampaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, CDC Foundation, International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, World Health Organization, and Vital Strategies, for global anti-tobacco efforts
$300 millionBloomberg Philanthropies; Michael BloombergThe Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health, to establish the Bloomberg American Health Initiative
$275 million (pledge)Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation; Steven Cohen, founder of Point72 Asset Management, and his wife, AlexandraTo start the Cohen Veterans Network to provide mental-health services to former service members and their families
$250 millionParker Foundation; Sean Parker, the founding president of FacebookTo establish the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy
$200 million (pledge)Larry Ellison, founder of the Oracle software companyUniversity of Southern California, to establish the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine
$200 million (pledge)Charles Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire HathawayUniversity of California at Santa Barbara, for new student housing
$185 millionWeill Family Foundation; Sanford Weill, chairman emeritus of Citigroup, and his wife, JoanUniversity of California at San Francisco, to start the Weill Institute for Neurosciences
$107.2 millionSheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of FacebookFidelity Charitable, for the Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Fund
$100 million (pledge)Paul Allen, a co-founder of MicrosoftTo establish the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, a new bioscience effort
$100 million (pledge)Phillip Frost, a physician and pharmaceutical company executive, and his wife, PatriciaUniversity of Miami, to support applied sciences and engineering
$100 million (pledge)David Geffen, a co-founder of DreamWorks Studios SKG and founder of Geffen RecordsMuseum of Modern Art in New York, to renovate and expand the museum
$100 millionReed Hastings, founder of NetflixSilicon Valley Community Foundation, to establish the Hastings Fund
$100 million (pledge)Robert King, founder of Peninsula Capital, and his wife, DorothyStanford University, for scholarships for students from underdeveloped countries
$100 millionMortimer B. Zuckerman Foundation; Mortimer Zuckerman, a co-founder of Boston Properties, a real-estate investment trustTo create the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Scholars Program in STEM Leadership to bolster collaboration between top U.S. and Israeli researchers

One Response to Megagifts Rise in 2016, With 12 Topping $100 Million

  • What’s so charitable about inheriting a tax-free offshore fortune, augmenting it by siphoning off millions at the expense of the employees of Karstadt, accepting massive government subsidies in return for unfulfilled expectations – then plowing a fraction into an ego project?

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