Top gifts came from bequests in 2008

Seven of the 10 gifts given last year by the top U.S. donors were made from estates, indicating that living donors may be scaling back in the down economy, says an annual ranking from The Chronicle of Philanthropy and Slate online magazine.

By contrast, all 10 of the top donors in 2007 were living when they made their gifts, says the Slate 60 list.

The two largest gifts on the list came from the estates of hotel magnate Leona Helmsley, who left $5.2 billion to her charitable trust, and medical inventor James LeVoy Sorenson, who left $4.5 billion to his family foundation.

Other top donors in 2008 were:

* Peter G. Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney, $1.02 billion

* Harold Alfond, $360 million bequest

* Donald B. and Dorothy L. Stabler, $334.2 million bequest

* David G. and Suzanne Booth, $300 million

* Frank C. Doble, bequest of $272 million

* Robert and Catherine McDevitt, $250 million bequest

* Michael Bloomberg, $235 million

* Dorothy Clarke Patterson, $225 million bequest

Several donors who made regular appearances on the list dropped off in 2008, including Pierre and Pam Omidyar, T. Boone Pickens, T. Denny Sanford and Oprah Winfrey.

“Some of the country’s richest philanthropists say the bleak economy is causing them to put off making new gifts,” Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, says in a statement. “What’s different about this recession as compared to the last few is that it is affecting charitable donations of all kinds, not just those by the poor and middle class.”

Since a quarter of last year’s top donors were from the hard-hit financial industry, donations may tumble further in 2009, Palmer says.

Michael Kinsley, founding editor of Slate, launched the Slate 60 list 13 years ago on the suggestion of media mogul Ted Turner, who said a list of charitable contributions would put the competitive nature of wealthy Americans to good use.

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