Posted on December 30, 2008
2008: Noteworthy Gifts
PND - 2008: Year in Review - Noteworthy Gifts
A credit crisis and sinking equity markets created major headaches for most investors in 2008. After a shaky start and a brief rally, the markets resumed their slide in June and then fell off a cliff in mid-September as storied financial services firm Lehman Brothers collapsed and was forced to file for bankruptcy.
In contrast, large gifts and bequests by individuals seemed to defy economic and market trends, with a stream of eight- and nine-figure gift announcements early in the year turning into a veritable torrent by year's end. Once again, medical research and institutions of higher education received the lion's share of the largest gifts. But a variety of other causes, including the high school dropout crisis, domestic abuse, sustainable solutions to environmental problems, women and girls in developing countries, and — in what was perhaps the most controversial announcement of the year — the care and welfare of dogs also attracted philanthropists' attention and dollars.
The year got off to a rousing start with the announcement that medical device inventor James L. Sorenson, who passed away in January at the age of 86, had bequeathed $4.5 billion to a foundation bearing his name. "Dad wanted his legacy to be that he cared about people," Sorenson's son, James, told the Salt Lake Tribune. "He was greatly blessed in life and felt a great obligation and opportunity to give back." A week or so later, Blackstone Group co-founder Peter G. Peterson launched the Peter G. Peterson Foundation with a $1 billion pledge. The foundation, which hired David M. Walker, a former head of the Government Accountability Office as its chief executive, will work to address critical economic, fiscal, and security challenges facing America, including the explosive growth of federal entitlement programs, rising healthcare costs, unprecedented trade and budget deficits, and an uncompetitive educational system.
In September, Eli and Edythe Broad, whose eponymously named foundation is a leading funder of educational reform and the arts, announced their largest gift ever — $400 million to the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT to secure the "permanency" of the institute and "unlock the enormous promise of biomedical research." Calling the institute the best philanthropic investment he had made, Eli Broad expressed his hope that its endowment would grow to $1 billion and urged others "to step forward as partners in the next phase of this grand experiment."
Harvard — which saw the value of its endowment fall 20 percent as the financial crisis intensified — was the recipient of several other staggeringly large gifts. In April, longtime donor David Rockefeller gave his alma mater $100 million for undergraduate programs, saying it was the storied school on the banks of the Charles that "opened my eyes and my mind to the world...and provided me with an intellectual framework to understand what I was seeing and experiencing." Rockefeller's generosity was bested in October when the school announced a five-year, $125 million gift from alumnus Hansjörg Wyss to create an institute for biologically inspired engineering. A few weeks later, the school announced it had received a gift of thirty-one major works of modern and contemporary art valued at $150 million as well as a pledge of $45 million from alumna and former Harvard Art Museum curator Emily Rauh Pulitzer.
The nation's oldest university wasn't the only institution of higher education to benefit from the generosity of friends and alumni in 2008. The University of Chicago ($300 million), Tufts ($136 million) and Lesley universities ($136 million), Princeton ($100 million), and Oklahoma State University ($100 million) all received nine-figure gifts or pledges during the course of the year, while Ohio University ($80 million), Georgetown ($75 million), the University of Pennsylvania ($50 million), Indiana University ($35 million), and Lehigh University ($34 million) were proud recipients of eight-figure gifts. And then there was the eye-opening $70 million endowment/matching gift to Culver Academies from Landmark Communications founder Frank Batten and his wife, Jane. With the gift, Batten, an alumnus ('45) of Culver Military Academy who had already donated $34 million to the all-boys school and its sister academy, became one of the most generous donors to a single institution in the history of secondary school philanthropy.
Big-city hospitals and arts institutions also benefited handsomely from mega-gifts in 2008. Among the largest was the $100 million that NYU Langone Medical Center received from board chair Kenneth Langone and his wife, matching the $100 million gift they donated to the center anonymously in 1999. (The center later announced two gifts totaling $260 million from longtime benefactor Helen L. Kimmel and a family that wished to remain anonymous.) In March, the New York Public Library announced a $100 million gift from financier Stephen A. Schwarzman — the largest single donation ever to the venerable institution — while in July Lincoln Center announced a ten-year, $100 million pledge from oil-and-gas billionaire David H. Koch for the renovation of its New York State Theater.
And then there was Leona Helmsley, who continued to make headlines a year after her death when it was revealed in July that the formidable hotelier had signed a two-page "mission statement" specifying that her $8 billion charitable trust be used exclusively for the care and welfare of dogs. The revelation generated broad public outcry and, in short order, sparked a heated debate over the legitimacy of such bequests and whether bequests — of any kind — should be subject to the estate tax. Although nothing had been settled by year's end, the debate is likely to be rejoined in 2009.
Georgetown University Receives $75 Million Bequest (12/15/08)
Indiana University School of Law Receives $35 Million for Scholarships (12/10/08)
NYU Langone Medical Center to Receive $260 Million for Major Expansion (11/13/08)
University of Chicago Business School Receives $300 Million Gift From Alumnus (11/10/08)
Harvard Art Museum to Receive Artworks Worth $200 Million From Pulitzer Collection (10/20/08)
Eli, Edythe Broad Pledge $400 Million to Endow Biomedical Research Institute (9/05/08)
Lincoln Center Receives $100 Million Pledge for Theater Renovation (7/11/08)
Bulk of Leona Helmsley's Fortune May Go to Dogs (7/03/08)
Princeton Receives $100 Million Gift for Energy and Environment Research (7/02/08)
University of Pennsylvania Receives $50 Million for New Biomedical Research Center (6/5/08)
Oklahoma State University Receives $100 Million From T. Boone Pickens (5/22/08)
Lehigh University Receives $34.2 Million Bequest for Scholarships (5/20/08)
Harvard Receives $100 Million From David Rockefeller for Undergraduate Programs (4/28/08)
Tufts, Lesley Universities to Share $272 Million Bequest (4/10/08)
NYU Medical Center Receives Second $100 Million Gift From Board Chair and Wife (4/07/08)
New York Public Library Unveils $1 Billion Transformation Plan (3/12/08)
Blackstone Group Co-Founder Launches $1 Billion Foundation (2/19/08)
Ohio University Receives $80 Million Bequest (2/10/08)
James L. Sorenson Leaves Billions to Charity (2/06/08)