At first glance, the generosity of Florida's top philanthropist in 2011 might suggest big givers are making a strong comeback this year.
Billionaire Bill Koch, whose Oxbow Corp. in West Palm Beach sells materials in the energy and steel industries, committed a whopping $50 million to start a new college preparatory school called Oxbridge Academy. That gift tops, by far, any individual donation by Floridians so far this year.
Koch's mega-gift just happens to be going to a school he is starting. That's not quite the same thing as his donating $50 million to an independent organization. But it's enough to qualify as Florida's biggest gift this year, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. (Koch's billionaire brothers happen to be David and Charles, who run a separate company and are big conservative funders of the tea party movement.)
In fact, Koch's gift — from a Floridian to a Florida institution — is not as common as it should be.
According to the Chronicle, which tracks the nation's top donors giving individual gifts of $1 million or more, 31 Floridians have committed at least $1 million to a single charitable institution this year. But only 13 of those gave money, like Koch, to a Florida institution. Eighteen others sent their charitable funds to out-of-state groups.
On the flip side, only 19 charitable institutions in Florida received donations of $1 million or more from an individual or couple this year. Four of those 19 donors live in other states. One additional gift — $1 million going to Lake Wales High School — was anonymous.
Alas, when it came to big-dollar philanthropy, Tampa Bay sat on the sidelines, based on Chronicle data.
No big philanthropists from the area appear to be giving serious money this year, at least so far. And no Tampa Bay institution has received serious philanthropy yet this year, at least according to the Chronicle.
Statewide, 31 wealthy Floridians committed $166.9 million in charitable donations. (Take away Koch's $50 million donation, and that means 30 donors gave $116.9 million.) Also, Florida institutions statewide received a commitment this year of $124.2 million from 19 donors. (Again, without Koch's $50 million, that means 18 donors gave $74.2 million.)
• • •
A little perspective. Koch's gift, Florida's biggest of 2011, ranks 19th this year in the United States.
Nationally, the biggest donors this year are from Pennsylvania. William S. Dietrich II, a steel executive, civic leader and author who became one of the great philanthropists in Pittsburgh history, is the nation's top donor this year with $440.6 million. He died at age 73 last month of complications from cancer. His biggest gifts, $265 million to Carnegie Mellon University and $125 million to the University of Pittsburgh, are among the largest donations ever by an individual to higher education in the United States.
Behind Dietrich at No. 2 are Pennsylvania couple Raymond G. Perelman, chairman of the mining/finance conglomerate RGP Holdings, and wife Ruth. Their $225 million donation is heading to the University of Pennsylvania to endow the newly renamed Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine.
Either one of these hefty gifts is bigger than all the big-buck donations either made by Floridians this year or received by Florida institutions.
• • •
Of Florida's 19 groups lucky enough to receive a donation of at least $1 million this year, nine gifts went to colleges or universities, including two pledges each to the University of Florida and the University of Miami. Four gifts went to Florida schools, including three high schools and one $1 million gift to the Eugene J. Butler Middle School in Jacksonville. Two gifts went to arts organizations.
The Miami Science Museum received a hefty $35 million from Miami area business executive and entrepreneur Phillip Frost and his wife, Patricia. And the Collins Center for Public Policy in Tallahassee received $1 million from Miami's Charles Zwick. South Floridians with a long memory may recall Zwick was the last chairman of Southeast Bank — Miami's last big hometown bank — before it failed in the early 1990s.
Among Florida's givers is John R. Walter, the former CEO of R.R. Donnelly, who with his wife is giving $5 million to a hospital system in Illinois. Walter, it might be noted of his career, also received media attention years ago when he walked away from AT&T after less than one year of service as president. His parting (and controversial) settlement: $26 million.
Glad to see some of that is going to a good cause.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at email@example.com.