Philanthropists break records

American's richest philanthropists are giving away more money than ever during their lifetimes, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy's latest list of top donors.

The country’s top 50 donors gave a total of $7.3bn to charity last year, compared with $6.6bn in 2006. It is the first time during the seven years the list has been compiled that all five of the biggest donors were still alive.

Twenty donors made gifts of $100m or more, with the largest donation coming from William Barron Hilton, who pledged $1.2bn to his father’s foundation. Twenty-eight of the donors on the list are among the 400 wealthiest people in America.

Among the biggest beneficiaries were higher education institutions and healthcare charities. Arts and environmental groups were the least popular causes.

Susan Mackenzie, director of Philanthropy UK, said a lot of American giving trends were mirrored in the UK. She said an increasing number of people were making their fortunes from business, and these were the kind of people who tended to give their money away during their lifetimes.

“Fifteen years ago, three-quarters of wealth was inherited: now it is different,” she said. “Self-made business people often make their money while they are still quite young, and they are not the kind of people who will just go away and retire quietly. They are recognising the joy of giving to causes they are passionate about, building relationships with charities and seeing their money make a real difference.”

Theresa Lloyd, fundraising consultant and author of Why Rich People Give, said the super-rich were also increasingly concerned about leaving too much money to their children. She said: “They want them to have the challenge and buzz of creating their own businesses, and they fear the adverse effects of too much money, which are well documented in celebrity magazines.”

However, she said there was not enough evidence available to determine whether people were giving away a higher percentage of their wealth than before.

Megan Pacey, director of policy and campaigns at the Institute of Fundraising, said the different tax regimes in the UK and the US made it difficult to compare trends. She said: “People look to the US and say ‘oh, it’s brilliant there’, but we are talking about apples and pears. There are different tax regimes and the attitudes to tax are very different.”

She said regular donations from living donors were preferable to legacy windfalls. “Charities usually know nothing about legacies until they come, and that makes it difficult to plan,” she said.

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