News and analysis
December 31, 2015

Multimillion-Dollar Gifts Were Sluggish in 2015

San Antonio Area Foundation; Rose Lincoln, Harvard University; John Lamparski/WireImage

The late Texas businessman John Santikos, hedge-fund mogul John Paulson, and industrialist David Koch gave some of the largest gifts to nonprofits in 2015.

The size of the biggest gifts from rich donors and their foundations fell significantly in 2015 compared with 2014, according to an analysis by The Chronicle.

The biggest gift of 2015 was a bequest from the Texas businessman John Santikos, who left property, assets, and cash worth about $605 million to the San Antonio Area Foundation. The money will create a fund that will support five causes: people in need, especially the elderly and victims of child abuse and disasters; youth and education; public libraries, parks, and museums; health care; and medical research. He was 87 when he died late in 2014.

The second-largest gift was $400 million, and the size of the largest gifts in 2015 fell substantially from there. Donors were particularly fond of the $100-million figure in 2015, with 13 gifts clocking in at that amount.

In comparison, the 2014 list was topped by a $1-billion bequest, followed by gifts of $650 million, $500 million, and $350 million.

Chan-Zuckerberg’s Big Promise

While the donations from the wealthy were somewhat lackluster, 2015 could end up going in the philanthropic record books anyway. In December, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced they plan to dedicate 99 percent of their Facebook shares — currently worth about $45 billion — to making the world a better place. None of that pledge has been committed to specific nonprofits yet, so the announcement didn’t qualify for The Chronicle’s list.

Still, the odds are good that the couple will send significant sums to charitable organizations in coming years. (See how Dr. Chan says the couple plans to spend the money in questions she answered exclusively for The Chronicle.)

Meanwhile, Mr. Zuckerberg and Dr. Chan continued to give in 2015 through their donor-advised fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. One of their larger grants in 2015, $75 million to San Francisco General Hospital for a trauma center, appears on The Chronicle’s list.

Universities Win Big

The $400-million pledge on this year’s list was from the hedge-fund mogul John Paulson and his wife, Jenny, to Harvard University. The money will endow the university’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and will support faculty, financial aid, and research.

News of Mr. Paulson’s donation unleashed a torrent of criticism. Commentators objected to his decision to devote so much money to a wealthy university like Harvard — whose endowment stands at $36 billion — rather than to human services groups and others that help the needy. Both the university and the Paulsons remained silent in the face of such critiques.

The third-largest donation was the $177-million grant from Chuck Feeney’s Atlantic Philanthropies. That contribution established the Global Brain Health Institute, which will be run by the University of California at San Francisco and Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

Of the 24 gifts on The Chronicle’s list, 16 went directly to universities to support scholarship on a range of topics, such as global conflict resolution and brain research, as well as financial aid for students and new buildings.

Another big bequest, $125 million from the Seattle businessman Donald Sirkin, went to LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Officials at the San Francisco group said they had never heard of Mr. Sirkin and were shocked when a lawyer from his estate contacted the charity to say it was the main beneficiary of Mr. Sirkin’s fortune.

The Chronicle’s annual ranking is based on the 10 biggest publicly announced single gifts; often more than 10 gifts appear on the list because of ties, as was the case this year.

The tally does not include donations of artwork or gifts from anonymous donors.

In February, The Chronicle will unveil its annual ranking of the 50 most-generous donors, a list based on total donations in 2015, not just single gifts, and not just those announced to the public.

Biggest Gifts Announced by Individuals and Their Foundations in 2015

Amount Donor Purpose or beneficiary
$605 million (bequest) John Santikos, founder of Santikos Theatres, a chain of cinemas San Antonio Area Foundation, to establish the John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation
$400 million (pledge) John and Jenny Paulson; John Paulson founded the hedge fund Paulson and Company Harvard University, to endow its School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
$177 million The Atlantic Philanthropies; Charles (Chuck) Feeney; co-founder of the Duty Free Shoppers Group University of California at San Francisco and Trinity College, to establish the Global Brain Health Institute
$150 million (pledge) David Koch; executive vice president of Koch Industries Memorial Sloan Kettering, for a new cancer care center
$150 million (pledge) Stephen Schwarzman, co-founded the investment firm Blackstone Group Yale University, to create a new arts, culture, and student center
$125 million (bequest) Donald Sirkin, a Seattle businessman LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired
$100 million (pledge) Marion Anderson, the widow of John Anderson, a Los Angeles businessman University of California at Los Angeles, to endow the Anderson School of Management and for a new building
$100 million David Elliott and Roberta Buffett Elliott; Ms. Buffett Elliott is one of financier Warren Buffett's sisters Northwestern University, to establish the Buffett Institute for Global Studies
$100 million The Atlantic Philanthropies; Charles (Chuck) Feeney University of California at San Francisco, to support its Medical Center at Mission Bay
$100 million (pledge) David Geffen; the founder of Geffen Records and a co-founder of DreamWorks Studios To Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts to renovate and rename the New York Philharmonic's concert hall
$100 million (pledge) David Geffen University of California at Los Angeles, for a new college-prepatory academy
$100 million (pledge) The Marie-Josee and Henry R. Kravis Foundation; Mr. Kravis co-founded the private-equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Company Rockefeller University, for a new laboratory
$100 million (pledge) Gordon and Betty Moore; Mr. Moore co-founded the Intel Corporation California Institute of Technology, for endowment
$100 million (pledge) Jan Moran and the Jim Moran Foundation; Jan Moran is the widow of Jim Moran, founder of JM Family Enterprises, an automotive company To Florida State University to establish the Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship
$100 million (pledge) Pearson Family Members Foundation; Thomas Pearson is a former senior vice president of Alliance Partners, a coal company; Timothy Pearson is a marketing consultant University of Chicago, to create the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts
$100 million (pledge) Conrad Prebys, the owner of Progress Construction and Management Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute, to support research
$100 million (pledge) J.B. and M.K. Pritzker; Mr. Pritzker co-founded the venture-capital firm the Pritzker Group Northwestern Unviersity, to endow programs in the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law
$100 million (pledge) Ernest and Evelyn Rady; Mr. Rady founded American Assets, a real-estate development company; and ICW Group Holdings, an insurance company University of California at San Diego Rady School of Management, to endow professorships
$100 million (pledge) Ranjan and Chandrika Tandon; Mr. Tandon founded the Libra Advisors hedge fund, and Ms. Tandon founded Tandon Capital Associates, a financial advisory firm New York University School of Engineering, for academic programs, professorships, and scholarships
$92 million Louis Simpson and Kimberly Querrey Northwestern Unviersity, for a new biomedical research center
$75 million Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan through their donor-advised fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation; Mr. Zuckerberg co-founded Facebook San Francisco General Hospital Foundation, to support the hospital's acute-care and trauma center
$75 million The John P. McGovern Foundation; Dr. McGovern was a physician University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, to expand medical training, research, and scholarships
$70 million Audrey Irmas; the widow of the late Sydney Irmas, a lawyer and investor Audrey Irmas Foundation for Social Justice
$65 million The Thompson Family Foundation; Wade Thompson co-founded Thor Industries, a recreational-vehicle company Park Avenue Armory, to endow programming

Send an email to Maria Di Mento.