Nonprofit news roundup – Week of 11.26.07

* Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates topped BusinessWeek’s annual list of the most generous U.S. philanthropists, with foundation donors George Kaiser and George Soros close behind. Sixteen of the 50 on the list gave more than $100 million, and nine gave upwards of $200 million, with most donors focused on causes rooted either geographically or experientially “close to home.”

* Software giant Oracle and casino operator Harrah’s Entertainment topped another BusinessWeek list of the most generous corporate givers for 2006. The voluntary survey, which counted both cash and in-kind donations, also found that many of the nearly 200 companies surveyed, all on the Standard and Poor 500-stock index, have begun incorporating philanthropy more directly into their business plans.

* Mainstream philanthropies are increasingly supporting gay causes, especially in staunchly conservative communities where such social service and advocacy can prove a critical lifeline, The New York Times reported Nov. 12. Tim Gill, a gay man who invented Quark software, established the Denver-based Gill Foundation in 1992 when a law, later repealed, banned Colorado jurisdictions from protecting gays; the foundation has helped launch initiatives that are now being picked up by funders with a more general focus.

* The Clinton Foundation, former President Bill Clinton’s public charity, has raised over $135 million in the past year for a total of $208 million in assets, a 70 percent increase since 2005, The Los Angeles Times reported Nov. 15. The nonprofit, which supports HIV/AIDS and environmental work, as well as Clinton’s presidential library, continues to face controversy over its decision to withhold donor information in light of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s bid for the presidency.

* Warren Buffett is urging retention of the U.S. estate tax in the face of plans for its repeal, which he says would benefit only an elite few while widening national income disparity, The New York Times reported Nov. 15. The chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and donor of a record $31 billion to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2006, told Congress that tax laws in the past two decades have kept the average American “on a treadmill while the superrich have been on a spaceship.”

* A Smithsonian exhibit has lost a $5 million gift from the American Petroleum Institute due to controversy over the appropriateness of supporting a display on the world’s oceans with oil-and-gas money, the Washington Post reported Nov. 17. The institute withdrew its offer, solicited by the museum complex itself, before the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents could meet to decide the issue.

* Baltimore has seen a significant increase in the size, activism and complexity of its foundations’ roles in the community over the past two decades, The Baltimore Sun reported Nov. 18. In the wake of large losses of corporate headquarters and corporate giving, the city has attracted two national operations – the Annie E. Casey Foundation and George Soros’s Open Society Institute – as well as continuing to grow its own capital pool in the form of local donors.

* For the past six years, Rockefeller heir Peggy Dulany has been gathering members of 68 of the wealthiest families in 22 countries for swank outings and meditative camping trips to talk about philanthropy through her Global Philanthropists Circle, BusinessWeek reported Nov. 26. Half a dozen similar philanthropy groups for the rich and famous that focus on general networking rather than specific causes have cropped up since the circle’s founding, though some say their success is often hard to gauge.

* Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the state’s largest health insurer, paid Chairman and CEO William C. Van Faasen $16.4 million in retirement benefits in January 2006, though he doesn’t plan to leave the company until the end of this year, The Boston Globe reported Nov. 16. Critics says the magnitude of this compensation from a nonprofit organization, and other excesses, are “uninsuring the insured.”

* Senior managers at New York City investment bank Bear Stearns are required to give 4 percent of their salaries to charity by a company policy that has existed since the 1970s, The New York Times reported Nov. 12. Though IRS data show that Americans in this income bracket usually give considerably more than Bear Stearns’ required donation, employees say the obligatory nature of the donations supports an open culture of philanthropy that might not otherwise exist.

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