In the world of big-bucks philanthropy, Florida's never been much of a player.
The wealthy, big givers who live in Florida tend to arrive in the Sunshine State later in life and tend to send their millions back to alma maters or hometown charities in distant states. The rest of the wealthy in the United States rarely seem motivated to toss $10 million, much less $50 million or more, to a Florida cause.
There are exceptions to the rule. Several Florida educational organizations hit the jackpot in 2009. More on those gifts in a moment).
The two Big Kahunas that rank major U.S. giving — the Chronicle of Philanthropy's Philanthropy 50 and the Slate 60 both list America's most generous people — acknowledge that 2009 was an unusually rough year. Thanks to the recession and last March's sharp blow to the stock market, the richest people naturally grew more cautious with their remaining wealth.
Total giving by the top 50 givers pancaked to $4.1 billion last year from $15.5 billion in 2008, almost a 75 percent decline. The median gift fell to $41.4 million from $69.3 million in 2008.
"In purely financial terms, last year was a dismal year for mega-gifts," the Chronicle stated. To qualify for the Philanthropy 50, the 50 most giving people in the country, a donor needed to part with just $16.2 million in 2009. In 2008, that number was $30.5 million, and in 2007 it was $39 million.
Even now, the unstable global economy has left many wary. The Dow has rebounded from last March's low of 6,500 to more than 10,000, but it remains far below its peak above 14,000 in 2007.
That volatility continues to unnerve the philanthropy world, just as it makes companies uneasy to hire. Donors and fundraisers both warn that big giving won't rebound to where it was for at least a few more years, if not longer.
The biggest philanthropic gift of 2009 came from Pittsburgh's Stanley Druckenmiller, who heads Duquesne Capital Management, and wife Fiona. The couple committed $705 million to their own foundation to support the Harlem Children's Zone and medical causes. Not too far behind was mutual fund pioneer John Templeton, whose $573 million went to his own foundation focused on the ties between spirituality and health.
Florida giving among the nation's top givers was nowhere near such Olympian heights. But a few recipients in the state did pretty well. Top of the list was the University of Florida, whose Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville received $41 million from a Minnesota couple. A separate gift of $21 million was pledged to UF's Shands Cancer Center in Gainesville. And $16 million was pledged to UF's business school.
Combined, that's $78 million from just three donors.
In Sarasota, the name Virginia Bernthal Toulmin is known as a benefactor of the local symphony, theater and arts communities. But last year, she gave a much more substantive $20 million to support nonprofits in Ohio, where she used to live.
And recent Florida resident Tom Golisano, at No. 50 on the Philanthropy 50 rankings, committed more than $16 million last year. Most of that went to his foundation in New York state. Of that sum, $4 million was pledged to Ave Maria University near Naples.
What's missing in this Florida list? A whopper: the $100 million to be funded over several years as a teacher effectiveness grant to the Hillsborough County school system from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It was unveiled late last year.
If the sheer size of philanthropic gifts is shrinking, the giving has grown smarter, philanthropy experts say. The wealthy increasingly donate through their own foundations. That may help at tax time, but it also empowers givers to focus their money. Donors are more involved in their philanthropy.
In that spirit, fewer givers are waiting until their deaths to donate major sums. As for the lean and hungry recipients in this time of diminished philanthropy, they're happy for whatever they get.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at email@example.com.