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What recovery? Biggest charity gifts still lagging

The good news for charitable institutions is that huge donations continue to roll in. But there's some bad news as well: The amounts are still below pre-recession levels, despite a surging stock market that's helped lift the fortunes of the top 1 percent.

The top 10 charitable donations in 2014 amounted to $3.3 billion, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. While that's nothing to sneeze at, it's still far below the $4.1 billion total from the top 10 charitable gifts in 2007, before the recession hit.

While many American families are feeling crimped amid the uneven recovery, the fact is that the fortunes of the ultra-rich have never been rosier. The top 0.1 percent of American households owned 22 percent of the country's wealth in 2012, up from only 7 percent in the late 1970s, according to recent research from economists Emmanuel Saez of University of California, Berkeley, and Gabriel Zucman of the London School of Economics. With the spectacular rise of the stock market this year, that wealth has only grown.

Given the surging fortunes of America's richest, one would expect that their charitable gifts would keep pace. But that hasn't been the case in the past few years, and 2014 is no exception.

Even though the rich give bigger gifts overall, at least in terms of dollar amounts, they typically give a smaller percentage of their overall income than do less fortunate families.

Americans earning $200,000 or more, which would put those families in the top 5 percent of all earners, reduced their charitable giving by almost 5 percent between 2006 to 2012. But Americans who earn less than $100,000 actually boosted their giving by 4.5 percent in the same time period.

Despite the lagging charitable giving from the ultra-rich, 2014 marked some huge donations. The biggest is an estimated $1 billion gift from Ralph Wilson, Jr., the owner of the Buffalo Bills football team, who passed away in March at the age of 95. Wilson's estate gave $1 billion to his charitable foundation, with his heirs now deciding how best to direct the foundation's spending, the Chronicle of Philanthropy noted.

The second biggest donation in 2014 was from businessman Ted Stanley, who gave $650 million to the Broad Institute, a biomedical research institute that's affiliated with Harvard and MIT. The Broad Institute called the gift the largest ever in psychiatric research and among one of the biggest ever for scientific research in general.

The surging valuations of tech companies also helped the charitable world. The third-largest donation in 2014 came from Nicholas and Jill Woodman, the founders of the GoPro camera company, who donated $500 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. GoPro sold its shares to the public last year.

2014's ten top charitable gifts are even lagging those in 2013, the Chronicle of Philanthropy noted. In 2013, the biggest gifts amounted to $3.4 billion. Despite this past year's lag, the top 10 gifts are still higher than in 2010 and 2011, when the biggest gifts amounted to only $2.6 billion and $1.3 billion, respectively.

Below are the top 10 charitable gifts in 2014:

1. Ralph Wilson, Jr: $1 billion to the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation

2. Ted Stanley, $650 million to the Broad Institute

3. Nicholas and Jill Woodman, $500 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation

4. The Chan family and the Morningside Foundation: $350 million to the Harvard School of Public Health

5. Larry Page: $177.3 million to the Carl Victor Page Memorial Foundation

6. Kenneth Griffin: $150 million to Harvard University

7. Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation: $130 million to Hudson River Park Trust

8. T. Denny Sanford: $125 million to Sanford Health

9. Ernest Rady: $120 million to Rady Children's Hospital

10. Sidney Kimmel Foundation: $110 million to Thomas Jefferson University

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