The largest American charitable contributions of 2008.

The largest American charitable contributions of 2008.

The largest American charitable contributions of 2008.

Analysis of the year's biggest philanthropists.
Jan. 23 2009 5:54 PM

Slate 60: Donor Bios

The largest American charitable contributions of the year.

1. Leona M. Helmsley—$5.2 billion to the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. Helmsley, head of the Helmsley Hotel Chain in New York, was 87 when she died in 2007. She bequeathed property, cash, stocks, and bonds worth an estimated $5.2 billion—most of her estate—to the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, which is poised to become one of the wealthiest foundations in the country. The estate filed an inventory of Helmsley's assets with the Surrogate's Court of the State of New York in November. The estate is still in the process of being settled, and given the taxes it will have to pay on $52.1 million in bequests to family members and others, and the current volatility of the financial markets, the bequest's value could change.


The trust currently has assets valued at approximately $2.9 billion, a spokeswoman for the trust said. "It is difficult to predict the amounts which will be generated by the sale of real-estate interests still held by [Helmsley's estate], all of which will be transferred to the charitable trust," the spokeswoman said. "The trustees are hopeful that those sales, coupled with the assets presently in the trust, will result in the trust's assets totaling approximately $5.2 billion." The foundation will support the care and welfare of dogs, according to a mission statement Helmsley signed in March 2003. Her intention to give the bulk of her estate to support dogs has caused both amusement and outrage, and it is unclear whether her trustees will follow her directions explicitly and establish the foundation solely for canines' benefit. One change in her estate was made in June, when the $12 million she left to a trust for her dog, a white Maltese named Trouble, was reduced to $2 million by a New York judge who ruled that the remaining $10 million would go to the charitable trust.

The 2003 mission statement also raises questions about the focus of the foundation. In that document, Helmsley states that while the charitable trust should support the care of dogs, it should also support "medical and health-care services for indigent people, with emphasis on providing care to children," and support a hospital, to carry out such care.  The 2003 document also gives the trustees some room to determine other causes the foundation could support. In March 2004, however, Helmsley signed another mission statement that revoked the 2003 document. In the new statement, Helmsley dropped the provision to help people.

2. James LeVoy Sorenson—$4.5 billion to the Sorenson Legacy Foundation. Sorenson, a medical-device inventor, was chairman of Sorenson Development, a holding company and the investment arm of the Sorenson Companies. Upon his death in January 2008 at age 86, he  bequeathed the bulk of his estate—real estate and cash worth an estimated $4.5 billion—to his family foundation, the Sorenson Legacy Foundation in Salt Lake City. The foundation supports arts groups, colleges and universities, charities that help abused children, medical-research programs, religious organizations (especially those with a Mormon emphasis), and youth groups. Its largest grants have gone to medical causes. The large infusion of money from the bequest, which was announced in February, will catapult the foundation into the ranks of the 20 wealthiest grant-makers in the United States. The estate is not yet settled, and Sorenson's family has declined to specify which organizations might eventually benefit. However, the foundation recently gave $15 million to the University of Utah for a new biomedical and neurosciences building, which the university plans to name for Sorenson. In his autobiography, Sorenson described his Depression-era childhood as one plagued by poverty. The family lived in a tar-paper shack two blocks from railroad tracks in Yuba City, Calif. "We were among many struggling for survival," he wrote.

As a child, Sorenson found that he could make a little money selling newspapers. In a local almond orchard, he collected the nuts that fell to the ground and sold them for a dime a bucket. In his teenage years, Sorenson wanted to be a physician, but a two-year stint as a Mormon missionary and service in World War II intervened. He became a pharmaceuticals salesman for the Upjohn Co. He also started investing in real estate. Through his sales work, Sorenson came across physicians and researchers who inspired many of his early inventions. In 1957 he co-founded Deseret Pharmaceuticals, and in 1962 he started the Sorenson Research  Co., which he sold to Abbott Laboratories in 1980, becoming the pharmaceutical giant's largest private shareholder.

Sorenson, who accumulated at least 40 patents by the time he died, is best known in the medical world for helping to develop the first real-time computerized heart-monitoring system. He also invented blood-recycling and infusion systems, disposable surgical masks, and noninvasive intravenous catheters, among other widely adopted medical devices.

3. Peter G. Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney—$1 billion to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics, and Sesame Workshop. Peterson co-founded the Blackstone Group, a New York financial firm that holds interests in corporate debt, hedge funds, private equity, and real estate. He also served as secretary of commerce during the Nixon administration. Cooney co-founded the Children's Television Workshop (now called Sesame Workshop). Peterson, 82, and his wife, Joan Cooney, 79, pledged $1 billion—of which $200 million has been paid—to establish the Peter G. Peterson Foundation in New York. When  Peterson created the foundation early last year, before the economic crisis hit, he said he did so to call attention to threats to America's economic security.

The foundation's primary focus is on problems the country is facing because of the growth of federal programs like Medicare and Social Security, rapidly increasing health care costs, ballooning budget and trade deficits, low savings rates, and soaring foreign debt. Peterson said his foundation will work to increase public understanding of those problems and encourage Americans to support efforts to combat them. The foundation will also work toward making the country's educational system more competitive and quashing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. In 2008 the foundation awarded grants totaling nearly $10.6 million. The Nuclear Threat Initiative in Washington received $3 million to establish an institute for nuclear security; the Concord Coalition, an Arlington, Va., group Peterson co-founded in 1992 to push for fiscally responsible public policy, received $1.5 million; America's Promise Alliance, a Washington organization focused on the well-being of youths, received $1 million; and the Committee on Economic Development, in Washington, received $1 million.

In addition to their pledge to the foundation, Peterson and Cooney gave $8.5 million to the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics, in Washington; and $5 million to Sesame Workshop, a New York group that produces Sesame Street and other educational programming for children. The couple also donated $1 million to the Museum of Television and Radio in New York; and $1 million to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.  Peterson serves on the boards of the Concord Coalition; the Japan Society and the Museum of Modern Art, both in New York; and the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics. Cooney serves on the boards of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, and the Paley Center for Media, all in New York. 

4. Harold Alfond—$360 million to the Harold Alfond Foundation. Alfond, who founded Dexter Shoe  Co. and who was 93 when he died in 2007, left his life savings, about $360 million, to the Harold Alfond Foundation, in Portland, Maine. The bequest comprises stock in Berkshire Hathaway, cash, and other securities. He established the foundation in 1950 with $15,000. This new infusion has increased its assets to about $500 million. Foundation officials described Alfond as actively involved in his philanthropy. He decided which charities it would support, and he paid regular visits to those organizations, talking with staff members and clients. While he did not designate specific programs or nonprofit groups in his bequest, he stipulated that the foundation continue to follow his focus of giving primarily to charities in Maine that concentrate on health care and on education for young people.

One major beneficiary is the Harold Alfond College Challenge, which begins this month. It provides college-scholarship grants of $500 to every child born in Maine. Other recipients in Maine are the Boys & Girls Club and the YMCA at the Alfond Youth Center in Waterville, which will share $5 million; Colby College, which will receive $3 million for a sports stadium; the Kents Hill School in Readfield, which will get $2.7 million for new artificial turf and to renovate locker rooms; and the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, which will receive $1.5 million for a children's garden.

 Alfond grew up in Swampscott, Mass., but earned his fortune throughout Maine. He did not attend college but followed his father into the shoe-manufacturing business. He started out making 25 cents an hour at Kesslen Shoe in Kennebunk and later used money he made from selling his car to join with his father in starting the Norrwock Shoe  Co.. He made his first million in 1944, when he sold the company for $1.1 million. He started the Dexter Shoe  Co. in 1958 and sold it to Berkshire Hathaway in 1993 for $433 million worth of Berkshire stock. As a result, Alfond and his family became the second-largest shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway stock at that time.

5. Donald B. and Dorothy Stabler—$334.2 million to the Donald B. and Dorothy L. Stabler Foundation and Lehigh University. Donald Stabler founded the Stabler Construction  Co. in Harrisburg, Pa., in 1940. The company grew into the Stabler Companies, which included 13 subsidiaries construction, manufacturing, and real-estate development. Donald Stabler, who died in 1997 at age 89, and his wife, who died in 2005 at 90, left approximately $300 million to their private foundation, the Donald B. and Dorothy L. Stabler Foundation in Harrisburg, and approximately $34.2 million to Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. The Stablers created their family foundation in 1965 after their teenage daughter, Beverly, suffered traumatic head injuries in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. The grant-maker supports colleges, hospitals, and other charities in central Pennsylvania.

The bequest to Lehigh is for an endowed scholarship fund and is the largest gift the university has ever received. The scholarship fund was set up by the Stablers in 1965 and is designed to support in perpetuity Lehigh students who demonstrate financial need. Stabler earned a bachelor's degree in 1930 and a master's degree in 1932 from Lehigh, both in civil engineering. He also received an honorary degree from the institution. He was a member of the university's board of trustees for more than 30 years, serving as a corporate member and as a chairman of the development committee. He had also served as president of Lehigh's alumni association.

6. David G. and Suzanne D. Booth—$300 million to the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. David Booth co-founded Dimensional Fund Advisors, an international finance firm in Santa Monica, Calif. Suzanne Booth is a former art conservator. The Booths pledged $300 million to the University of Chicago's business school. The couple did not earmark the money for any specific purpose. Officials at the school say that while they have not mapped out exactly how they will use all of the money, some of it will go toward supporting current and new faculty members. Other uses, they say, could include expanding the school's research centers and broadening its international branches beyond its current London and Singapore campuses.

Although they would not say whether any of the pledged amount has been paid, the Booths have arranged to give a portion of the money upfront, while the remainder will be paid out over a period of years from their family trust. Some of the pledge will come in the form of cash payments, and some in shares of stock in Dimensional Holdings, a parent company of Dimensional Fund Advisors. Booth, who is a trustee of the university, earned a master's in business administration from its business school in 1971. He said he made the pledge because he wanted to repay the school for the intellectual epiphany he had there. Booth's insights into efficient market theories were influenced by several of the business school's professors, including Merton Miller, Frank Reilly, and his biggest influence, Eugene Fama, who became a mentor and helped Booth find his first job. 

7. Frank C. Doble—$272 million to Lesley University and Tufts University. Doble founded the Doble Engineering  Co., a Watertown, Mass., company that provides diagnostic test instruments for electric power companies. Doble, who was 83 when he died in 1969, bequeathed $136 million apiece to Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., and Tufts University in Medford, Mass. The money comes from two trusts that Doble set up in the 1960s to benefit the two universities. Together, the trusts held an 87 percent stake in Doble Engineering and were dissolved in December 2007 when the company was acquired by ESCO Technologies, in St. Louis. Lesley and Tufts received the money in 2008.  Doble stipulated in his will that the money given to each university should go toward their endowments, but he placed no restrictions on how the universities could use the earnings.  Doble, who graduated from Tufts in 1911 with a degree in electrical engineering, had long-standing ties to the university. To pay his Tufts tuition, he installed and wired the university's telephone system while still a student. He started Doble Engineering in 1920 in Boston, but in 1925 he moved the company headquarters to the Tufts campus, where it remained until 1947.  He hired many Tufts graduates over the years, and Tufts engineering professors often worked closely with his company.

Officials at Tufts said they knew that Doble had named the university as one of the beneficiaries of the trusts, but they didn't anticipate such a big bequest and are still deciding how to make the best use of the money. In the 1950s and 1960s, Lesley University (then called Lesley College) was primarily focused on training its students to become teachers. Doble's gift to Lesley, where he served as a trustee for nearly 20 years, grew out of his belief that high-quality elementary education was a crucial factor in developing the types of students who would want to pursue scientific studies in college. Officials said the gift to Lesley will endow academic programs and student scholarships and will be used to expand and renovate university facilities. In addition to the bequests, each university has received $34 million in dividends from the trusts in the 40 years since Doble's death.

8. Robert L. and Catherine H. McDevitt—$250 million to Georgetown University, Le Moyne College, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, and various other churches and universities. Robert McDevitt owned the McDevitt Brothers Funeral Home in Binghamton, N.Y. His mother was secretary to A. Ward Ford, president of the company that eventually became IBM. She bought IBM stock early in the company's history and gave the stock to McDevitt, who spent 70 years accumulating additional shares. The majority of the bequests he left will be paid in IBM stock. McDevitt, who died in September at age 90, and his wife, Catherine, who died in April at age 84, left bequests estimated at $250 million to 14 charities, most of which are religious groups or universities. The largest bequest was left to Georgetown University, which received about $75 million. The gift will be used to establish an endowment, the annual income of which will support faculty positions in theology, computer science, philosophy, and law. The bequest represents the largest single donation the university has ever received. McDevitt graduated from Georgetown in 1940 with a bachelor's degree in social science.

The couple also left about $50 million to Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., to be added to the college's endowment. The gift will endow professorships in computer science, information processing, physics, and religious philosophy. It will also support research, staff assistance, equipment, and technology. This gift is the largest that has ever been made to Le Moyne College. McDevitt had been a regent emeritus at the college since 1972 and served as a member of the college's board of trustees from 1977-80. The third-largest gift from the McDevitts was about $45 million to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse. The money will go into two endowments, one named for the couple and one named in honor of the couple's parents. The McDevitts' estate has not yet been entirely settled, but estimates are based on dollar figures left to some groups compared against the percentages named in McDevitt's will.

9. Michael R. Bloomberg—$235 million to arts, education, health care, and social-service organizations. Bloomberg, 66 and the mayor of New York, founded Bloomberg LP, a financial-data and news service company in New York. He gave a total of $235 million to 1,200 nonprofit groups, including Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, to support a children's hospital; the Robin Hood Foundation, a New York organization that works to fight poverty; and Stand Up to Cancer, a Pasadena, Calif., organization that supports cancer research and efforts aimed at advancing treatment for cancer patients. He would not say exactly how much money he gave to those three organizations or identify other charities to which he gave.

 Bloomberg said in 2007 that he planned to concentrate full time on his philanthropy when he leaves office at the end of this year. To that end, he established the Bloomberg Family Foundation and asked the city to advise him about whether he could diversify the investments he makes personally, and those of his new foundation, without violating his responsibilities as mayor. The board ruled that he could diversify his investments as long as the identities of the money managers and the investments they make are kept secret from him. But life as a full-time philanthropist may have to wait. In October,  Bloomberg asked the New York City Council to ease the term limits for New York mayors (who are usually allowed to serve only two terms) so that he could run for office again this year and serve a third term if he wins. The bid passed, and while Bloomberg has not formally kicked off his campaign, he has signaled that he intends to run for a third term.

10. Dorothy Clarke Patterson—$225 million to the Patterson Foundation. Patterson was the widow of James J. Patterson, a vice president and assistant managing editor of the New YorkDaily News, founded by Patterson's father, Capt. Joseph Medill Patterson, and Col. Robert R. McCormick. Capt. Patterson's father and Col. McCormick were cousins and also co-published the Chicago Tribune. Patterson, who died in 2007 at age 85, bequeathed approximately $225 million to the Patterson Foundation in Sarasota, Fla., which she established in 1997 with $2 million. Most of the bequest money is from Tribune Co. stock. Although the foundation has typically supported charities focused on social-service causes, as well as educational, literary, religious, and scientific organizations, Debra M. Jacobs, president of the foundation, said Patterson did not earmark her bequest for any specific grants or causes. In the fiscal year ending in 2007, the foundation made grants of $30,000 to $80,000 apiece to several Sarasota groups including Cardinal Mooney High School, the Goodwill Foundation, and Incarnation Catholic School. That same year, the foundation also awarded a grant to Healthy Lifestyle Choices in New Orleans, and in 2008 gave the Sarasota chapter of the American Red Cross a $100,000 grant for the group's Disaster Relief Fund.

11. Richard W. Weiland—$174.3 million to the Pride Foundation of Seattle, Stanford University, Nature Conservancy, Children's Hospital Foundation in Seattle, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and United Way of King County. Weiland, one of the first employees of Microsoft, helped design and program early interface systems for personal computers. He retired in 1988 to concentrate on philanthropy. He left $65 million to the Pride Foundation, a nonprofit group in Seattle that advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and supports HIV/AIDS philanthropies. He stipulated that $46 million of the gift be used to establish an endowment, which foundation officials have named the Weiland Designated Fund, to benefit 10 groups: AmFAR; Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation; Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network; In the Life; International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission; Lambda Legal; National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays; Project Inform; and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. He directed the remaining $19 million to the Pride Foundation's endowment and its scholarship program.

Weiland, who served on the boards of both the Pride Foundation and the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, was a longtime donor to Pride and to each of the 10 other groups. He left instructions about what percentage of his donation each group would receive, but he did not place restrictions on the use of the money. Weiland's second-largest bequest, $60 million, went to Stanford University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1976. He directed the funds to the school of humanities and sciences, the school of engineering, the graduate school of business, and the medical school, and he said each dean could decide how to use the money. He also designated a portion of the gift to endow a fund for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students at the university, and to endow a fund for undergraduate education. Stanford officials would not say exactly how much money went to each school and endowment.

 Weiland also bequeathed $13 million to the Nature Conservancy in Arlington, Va., for general use and to buy land for conservation; $8 million to the Children's Hospital Foundation in Seattle for its endowment and a matching program to raise money from other donors; and $8 million to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. He stipulated that the center should direct 50 percent of the donation toward HIV/AIDS research, 32 percent to pilot studies and innovative research, and 18 percent to the general fund. In addition, he left $7.6 million to the United Way of King County for its Gates Endowment, established by Weiland's friend and colleague Bill Gates, a co-founder of Microsoft. Weiland bequeathed $3.2 million each to the Environmental Defense Fund in New York; the Lakeside School, a private school in Seattle that he had attended; and the National Wildlife Federation in Reston, Va. He also left $3.1 million to the Sierra Club Foundation.  

12. Helen L. Kimmel—$156.5 million to the New York University Langone Medical Center. Kimmel, the widow of Martin S. Kimmel, a real-estate developer in Hyde Park, N.Y., pledged $150 million to New York University Langone Medical Center for a new patient facility, which will be named for Kimmel and her husband, who died last April at the age of 92. A trustee of the medical center since 1984, Mrs. Kimmel said she and her late husband had been thinking about giving a large gift to the medical center for several years. She decided to pledge the money last year because she was impressed with the work of the medical center's dean, Robert I. Grossman.

"For me, I need to have supreme confidence in the leadership of an institution before I make this kind of a gift," she said. "Since Dr. Grossman assumed the leadership of the center in July of 2007, he has inspired faculty, staff, and trustees alike with a vision for world-class excellence and taking the medical center to the next level."

In addition to the $150 million commitment, Kimmel gave the medical center $4 million to establish a center for clinical treatment and research related to wound healing, the development of drugs that aid the healing process, and wound-care programs for medical students. She also donated $2.5 million to the medical center for a cardiology professorship. Kimmel serves on New York University's board of trustees and on the board of directors of the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science and of the American Friends of the Israel Museum.

13. H.F. (Gerry) and Marguerite B. Lenfest—$139.9 million to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Curtis Institute of Music, the Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades, Washington and Lee University, the Barnes Foundation, and Columbia University law school. Gerry Lenfest, who founded Lenfest Communications in Wilmington, Del., before selling the company to Comcast in 2000, and his wife pledged $27 million to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for endowment. They also pledged $25 million to the Curtis Institute of Music, also in Philadelphia. The money will go toward new housing for students and a rehearsal hall. Gerry Lenfest is chairman of the board of trustees at both the museum and the music institute.

The Lenfests also pledged $20 million to the Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades in Media, Pa., for endowment. Of the total pledged, $5 million has been paid. The gift to the school is part of a matching agreement between the Lenfests and another couple, Henry M. and Lee Rowan, who also pledged to give the school $20 million.

In addition, the Lenfests pledged $17 million to Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., to establish two endowments, one of which will support yearlong faculty sabbaticals and the other of which will support faculty summer research projects. The university must raise money from other donors to begin receiving the pledged amount. The Lenfests plan to make payments on the pledge in 2010, when the university is scheduled to kick off the public phase of its capital campaign. The couple made another matching pledge of $15 million to Columbia University's law school in New York. As with the Washington and Lee pledge, Columbia must raise money from other donors to receive all of the pledged amount from the Lenfests.

The Lenfests also pledged $3 million to Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools, and $1 million to Independence Seaport Museum, both of which are in Philadelphia. Along with the pledges they made last year, the couple also gave $15 million—of which $7.5 million has been paid—to the Barnes Foundation, a Merion, Pa., organization that houses an art collection, gives classes, and operates a 12-acre arboretum and a library. They gave $2.4 million to Natural Lands Trust so the group can buy land for conservation; $1.5 million to Mastery Charter Schools in Philadelphia; and $1 million each to the Library of Congress; the Salvation Army; and Swarthmore College. In addition, the Lenfests made gifts totaling $10 million to about 250 nonprofit groups, including HMS School for Children With Cerebral Palsy and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, both in Philadelphia; the Philadelphia Orchestra; and American Friends of Israel Museum, Catholic Medical Mission Board, and Teach for America.

14. David Rockefeller—$137.8 million to Harvard University, the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City, the American Museum of Natural History Southwest Research Station, the New York Botanical Garden, and the Museum for African Art. Rockefeller, 93 and heir to the Standard Oil fortune, pledged $100 million to Harvard University under the condition that the university will receive the gift upon his death, and an additional $2.5 million, of which nearly $1.3 million has been paid. Of the $100 million, $70 million will support study-abroad programs for undergraduates, plus internships, service, and research programs in foreign countries, and annual stipends for undergraduates studying abroad who otherwise could not afford to do so. Rockefeller has directed the remaining $30 million to three new centers where undergraduates can study original artworks from Harvard's holdings. The study-abroad portion of the pledge is of special significance to Rockefeller, who spent the summer of 1933 in Germany and witnessed the rise of fascism in that country.

"Increasingly it's important for students to spend a significant amount of time abroad, and I just think that it isn't enough to know just about this country," he said. "The best way, from my own experience of learning about other parts of the world, is to go there and meet the people and live with them."