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The 2016 Philanthropy 50

2016 Phil 50 Special Report art

Last year was hard on megagift donors. Uneasiness about the country’s growing inequality revved up the criticism that often follows philanthropy by the wealthy: The gift does nothing for the common good; or it’s a pittance of the donor’s wealth.

In the Philanthropy 50, such critics will find ammunition. Ten of the billionaires on the list gave away less than 1 percent of their wealth. And more than $2 billion went to major American universities and colleges, many of which have enormous endowments.

Still, the Philanthropy 50 also offers a more appealing story. Many of 2015’s biggest gifts aim to drive social change, and several emerging philanthropists are making gifts to the needy.

Crossing the midpoint of the decade, big-gift philanthropy seems at a crossroads.