For example, Eli Broad (No. 49), the real-estate mogul, says he has “some sympathy” for the Occupy Wall Street protestors. But their message about inequality supports his diagnosis of what ails America: a poor education system. Mr. Broad, who has been backing efforts to change public schools since the late 1990s, says he thinks the downturn will produce more education donors.
Also at play may be the fact that fundraising success tends to breed fundraising success. Since 2007, eight nonprofits have won at least four gifts apiece of $10-million or more from multiple donors in The Chronicle’s top 50 rankings. All eight are universities and university medical centers. Half are Ivy League institutions.
Ms. Berman says groups like those are benefiting from a “virtuous cycle” of big giving. Other, smaller, organizations are stuck in a “vicious cycle”: Many donors don’t want to be the first to make a whopper of a gift to an untested charity.
Mr. Broad says that social-service groups and those that aren’t winning big gifts “have to make a better case for the needs than they have to date.”
Big donors are turning to universities for projects to advance research on clean energy, like Thomas F. Steyer and Kathryn A. Taylor (tied for No. 33), who pledged $25 million to Yale, or to spur business development in poor countries, like Robert E. and Dorothy J. King (No. 8), who gave $154.5 million to Stanford.
Other charities don’t necessarily craft such ambitious appeals, say donors and nonprofit officials. And donors who want to leave a legacy worry that the newer nonprofits, unlike four-century-old Harvard, might not be around in 25 or 100 years.