The Top 1% Feels An Obligation to Give

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Much criticism has been leveled at the 1% lately. But what do they say about themselves? Well, a new study finds that a majority of the wealthiest Americans believe they have a strong responsibility to give back to their community.

In a report entitled Responsibility and Money: How the Wealthy View Their Role in Society, PNC Wealth Management found that 59% of the 555 millionaires surveyed feel an obligation to give. The study also found that 64% of the respondents said they should give significant checks to improve society; and that only 25% of the respondents said they would reduce their philanthropy if taxes were to be increased. About half  said they also agree with Warren Buffett’s call for the very wealthy to pledge more to charity and pay more in taxes.

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The report was issued just before Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates announced that he will give $750 million to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help eradicate AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. “By supporting the Global Fund, we can help to change the fortunes of the poorest countries in the world. I can’t think of more important work,” Gates said in a statement.

Last week, billionaire David Rubenstein, managing director of the Carlyle Group, pledged $7.5 million to help fix the Washington Monument after an earthquake last summer damaged the landmark and shut it down to the public. This was not his first such effort. If it weren’t for Rubenstein, the U.S. wouldn’t own a copy of the Magna Carta, which he purchased in 2007 for $21 million and donated to the government; he also spent $322,000 on a display case for it. And last month he gave $4.5 million to the National Zoo to ensure funding for the panda reproductive unit, according to the Washington Post.

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Despite such high profile examples, major gifts have actually been on the decline since 2008 — presumably as a result of the financial crisis. The Center on Philanthropy recently created a database of the 60,000 charitable gifts of $1 million or more made since 2000. In 2006, $1 million-plus gifts totaled more than $65.46 billion. In 2008, there were almost 8,000 gifts of $1 million or more, which totaled $41 billion. In 2010, just over $10 billion was donated.

While mega-giving is on the decline, overall charitable contributions are on the rise since pre-2008 levels. According to the Atlas of Giving, Americans donated $346.17 billion in 2011, a 7.5% increase over 2010, which also is up from $307.7 billion in 2008.