Image: Leona Helmsley
Paul Hawthorne  /  Getty Images file
The late hotelier Leona Helmsley topped the list of America's biggest donors in 2008, leaving an estimated $5.2 billion to a charitable trust.
updated 3/3/2009 11:33:50 AM ET 2009-03-03T16:33:50

The recession could be changing the giving habits of America's wealthiest donors.

Gifts from seven of the 10 biggest donors in 2008 were made from estates, according to an annual ranking of America’s most-generous donors, released recently by The Chronicle of Philanthropy and the online magazine Slate. It's a sign that even the richest Americans may be putting off large donations due to economic uncertainty.

"Some of the country’s richest philanthropists say the bleak economy is causing them to put off making new gifts, and fundraisers already are noticing a dip in eight- and nine-figure donations,” said Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, which has tracked and published this data since 2000, and also provides the data and reporting used to compile the Slate 60 list. 

"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."

The largest gift on the 2008 list came from the late hotel magnate Leona M. Helmsley, who left an estimated $5.2 billion — the bulk of her estate — to a charitable trust.

Below is a list of the top 10 donors in 2008 and how much each gave to charity. For more details and an expanded list of top donors, visit The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s "Philanthropy 50" list and the "Slate 60" list.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy based the list on gifts and pledges of cash and stock to nonprofit institutions.

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