January 3, 2019; Fast Company
The Chronicle of Philanthropy is reporting that the total of the 10 largest mega-gifts (that they know about) from the super-rich is down this past year, amounting to a mere $5.8 billion in 2018 against 2017’s $10.2 billion. Whatever are we to do?
But, never fear. The 2017 numbers included a Gates gift of $4.6 billion to his own foundation; Zuckerberg and Chan, and Michael and Susan Dell, followed suit, and that money will be spent out over many years, so…well, the timing of these figures probably means about zip to most of us fundraising for next year’s budgets. And anyway, the inimitable Patrick Rooney of IUPUI has long told us that these mega-gifts are particularly vulnerable year to year to the circumstances at play for the individual. (Not to mention that just one multi-billion-dollar gift can throw off the averages.) In other words, this area of giving can be somewhat volatile.
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Perhaps the most notable gift was from Jeff Bezos, who gave $2 billion to fight family homelessness and build nonprofit preschools even as Amazon was concluding a bidding war for new corporate sites that are likely to displace more ordinary local folk and eat up local tax dollars in abatements. As Steve Dubb reported, the process garnered Amazon many public subsidies: “In New York City, the state and city combined are providing $1.85 billion in tax breaks to the tech giant—about $74,000 per job. Northern Virginia is also providing significant aid to Amazon. Jonathan O’Connell and Robert McCartney report in the Washington Post direct subsidies totaling $573 million, as well as $223 million for transportation improvements.”
Apparently true to brand, Bezos did his own philanthropic version of a bidding war with his personal, tension-filled buildup to his philanthropic commitment to homeless people.
So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut wrote. Looking at mega-gifts in isolation from their sources and the dynamics they set up makes little societal sense…at least, to some of us.—Ruth McCambridge