Tech billionaires among biggest charity donors in 2010

Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Ellison among list of top donors

A handful of tech billionaires rank among last year’s most generous philanthropists, according to an annual list of America’s 50 biggest donors. The ranking, published yesterday by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, includes Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg, founder Marc Benioff and Oracle chief Larry Ellison.

Overall, 2010 wasn’t a great year for giving. The total amount given by the 2010 Philanthropy 50 (who really numbered 54 because of ties in the Chronicle’s rankings) was $3.3 billion. That’s the smallest amount since the publication began compiling its list in 2000. The annual tally peaked when it hit $50.7 billion in 2006 -- the year Warren Buffett pledged $36.1 billion to the Gates Foundation.

Furthermore, the median gift in 2010 was $39.6 million, down from $41.4 million in 2009, $69.3 million in 2008, and $74.4 million in 2007, the Chronicle reports.

Number one on the 2010 list is hedge fund manager George Soros, who donated $332 million last year to Open Society Foundations, an organisation he created to fund human rights causes around the world. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg placed second in the rankings, having pledged $279.2 million to nearly 1,000 charities in 2010, according to the Chronicle.

The highest-ranking tech-related philanthropist on the list is Irwin Jacobs, cofounder of wireless communications vendor Qualcomm. Coming in at No. 4, Jacobs and his wife, Joan Jacobs, donated $119.5 million in 2010 to beneficiaries including the University of California at San Diego Health System, to which they pledged $75 million for the construction of a new medical center.’s Benioff and his wife Lynne Benioff donated $100 million to the University of California at San Francisco for a new children’s hospital. The Benioffs' $100 million pledge landed them in the 10th position on the Chronicle’s ranking – tied with Zuckerberg, the youngest donor to ever make the list.

Zuckerberg pledged $100 million – via his new foundation, Startup:Education -- to overhaul public education in Newark, New Jersey.

EBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam Omidyar, who donated $61.5 million in 2010, placed 16th on the list. Pam Omidyar is chairwoman of HopeLab, a nonprofit that develops technology to help chronically ill children. The couple’s 2010 beneficiaries include HopeLab, Humanity United, Omidyar Network and the Ulupono Initiative.

Also representing the tech industry is Ming Hsieh, who donated $50 million to the University of Southern California to help fund a new institute for nanomedicine research. Hsieh (No. 19) founded AMAX Information Technologies, a high performance computing and storage vendor in Fremont, Calif., and Cogent Systems, a biometric security vendor in Pasadena.

Ellison landed at number 24 on the list with a $45.1 million donation to his Ellison Medical Foundation for biomedical research. Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen donated $32.3 million in 2010 to beneficiaries including Washington State University, landing him at number 31.

Just six of the donors on the Chronicle’s list are under age 50, including Zuckerberg (26), Pierre and Pam Omidyar (both 43) and Benioff (46).

The Chronicle notes in its research that it only counts new gifts and pledges, not payments that donors made on pledges announced in previous years. As a result, the 2010 Philanthropy 50 list doesn’t include some of last year’s largest donations, which were made as payments on pledges announced in previous years.

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