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As tensions over wealth gap rise, the rich are giving more

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It’s not that wealthy people don’t write checks to such charities. They do, according to Chronicle data and interviews with donors. They just reserve their $25 million, and even their $5 million, gifts for other types of institutions.

That’s in part because many philanthropists don’t see human-service organizations as the best way to alleviate America’s problems. And that’s not likely to change even in light of the country’s lingering economic troubles.

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.

A 'virtuous cycle’

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.

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