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Facebook's Zuckerberg tops list of 15 biggest Calif. philanthropists

Mark Zuckerberg, right, president and CEO of Facebook, walks to morning sessions with his then-girlfriend (now wife) Priscilla Chan during the 2011 Allen and Co. Sun Valley Conference, Saturday, July 9, 2011, in Sun Valley, Idaho. The two top the 2013 Philanthropy 50 list.
Mark Zuckerberg, right, president and CEO of Facebook, walks to morning sessions with his then-girlfriend (now wife) Priscilla Chan during the 2011 Allen and Co. Sun Valley Conference, Saturday, July 9, 2011, in Sun Valley, Idaho. The two top the 2013 Philanthropy 50 list.
Julie Jacobson/AP

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The list for the top 50 most generous donors in 2013 came out today from the the Chronicle of Philanthropy. 

15 of those included in this group are from California:

Stacy Palmer, an editor at the Chronicle of Philanthropy, joins the show with more on who made the list. 


First off, what's the criteria for this list?

We're looking for the most generous people in America, so we're looking at total donations throughout the year, so this isn't just one single biggest act of generosity, but everything that they've done in the entire year. 

How much money do people have to give?

To get on the list you have to have given at least $37 million and then you have on the very top of the list, a billion dollar gift, so there's quite a range. One of the signs that giving is healthy is that that number at the bottom is still pretty high. During the downturn, it took just about $20 million to get on the list. 

Why is California most represented on the list?

California has so much wealth that of course it's expected that many people would be on the list, but we've seen growth over the past few years particularly as Silicon Valley has been producing more fortunes. 

What does this say about California?

It absolutely shows that people are interested in changing society in some way and finding a way to give back, and I think when you see how the technology industry has changed society, it goes hand in hand that they would be changing philanthropy as well and thinking about their impact. So it's not surprising that California has played a very leading role. 

Who are they?

Most people on the list this year are people who have been on the list for a while. So they are many of the household names. Some people won't have heard of number two on the list, George Mitchell, who made his fortune in fracking, and one of the things he did was leave money to make sure there would be regulation of the fracking industry and set up $750 million in a conservation fund and is really looking at a way to have his legacy extended to be sure that the environment is safe regardless of what happens with the technology. 

Young tech guys have been getting a bad wrap for NOT giving back to their communities. Is Mark Zuckerberg an anomaly?

I think Mark Zuckerberg is unusual in that he's given so much at such an incredibly young age. We've never had someone on top of the list who is under 30, although last year in the top five, three out of the five were people who were under 40, so we're certainly seeing a youth surge. And in the technology industry some people are starting to give in pretty serious ways. I think many people will follow Zuckerberg's example. What's notable about him isn't just the amount he's given, but he didn't set up a foundation in his own name, he decided to give money to the Bay Area Foundation, and this wasn't his only gift there; last year he gave another sizable gift, so they have now become the very biggest community foundation in the country. 

Which causes are benefiting from these 50 donors?

Colleges and universities hands down won the most gifts, and it was for a wide range of causes. Some went to science, some went to typical areas like building new buildings, dorms, that kind of thing, giving scholarship money and that sort of thing, but that was the biggest recipient on the list. Followed by hospitals and healthcare. 

On the issue of income inequality: Are the richest people giving back enough?

One of the things that's interesting is we looked at how many people were on the Forbes 400 list who also made our list, and of the Forbes 400 list, 377 people on Forbes 400 are not on our list, so I think it is a sign that certainly some people don't see a need to give every year, they may be putting money away for a long time commitment, but there isn't as much giving by the very wealthy as you might expect. On the flipside, what's lovely about our list is some people you've never heard of are quietly amassing these very small fortunes and then surprising charities at their death, with incredibly generous bequeaths. There was one donor on the list who gave $20 contributions to the Salvation Army in Seattle and then left them a big share of his $139 million bequest. They had no idea that was coming.

Has giving gone up or down?

Giving was much more generous than living donors on the lost gave as much this year as they have previous two years, so I think that's a sign that the economy is coming back that they felt comfortable about giving and perhaps all of this talk about inequality is spurring them to give more. Giving has been fairly sluggish over the past few years overall in the country, however, and many charities are really struggling to be able to raise as much money this year as they did last year.