SEATTLE -- Money donated by the nation's most charitable people is starting to catch up with pre-recession giving, thanks in part to large bequests from a few donors.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy said Monday in its annual report of the nation's most generous people that the top 50 donors made pledges in 2011 to give a total of $10.4 billion.
The donors gave a total of $3.3 billion in 2010, the smallest total since the Chronicle began tracking the biggest donors in 2000. A decade ago, the top 50 givers gave $12.5 billion.
Two people are conspicuously absent from the top 50 list this year: Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. That's because the Chronicle doesn't include payments on gifts promised in previous years in its spreadsheet of top givers. Both Gates and Buffett made large payments on past pledges in 2011.
It took gifts totaling at least $26 million to make the list this year. People on the list gave a median of $61 million in 2011, compared to $39.6 million in 2010. Twenty-nine of the top 50 gave $50 million or more.
Nineteen made big gifts to colleges, including 10 multimillion-dollar gifts to universities that were not the donors' alma maters.
Ten of the top 50 made the list because of bequests after their death. The Chronicle notes that 379 of the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans did not report making big charitable gifts.
The results dovetail with an index that Charleston-based Blackbaud Inc. created to track giving trends. The Daniel Island company, which makes software for nonprofit organizations, said last month that fundraising among the groups it targets has returned to pre-recession levels for the first time.
The Chronicle drew a connection between its list and the Occupy Wall Street movement in comments about the report, pondering whether the movement's spotlight on the nation's wealthiest individuals would encourage them to give more in 2012.
"This year's survey indicates a healthy uptick in giving -- the highest level in three years. The increase is more likely a sign of economic improvements than a response to outside pressure to give more," said Stacy Palmer, Chronicle editor.
The top donor of 2011 was philanthropist Margaret A. Cargill of La Jolla, Calif., an agribusiness heiress who died in 2006, but her estate put $6 billion into the two foundations she set up to support the arts, environment, disaster relief and other causes, the Chronicle reported.
Another bequest was responsible for the second-largest donation in 2011. Pittsburgh steel executive William S. Dietrich II died last year and left $500 million to a foundation set up in his name to support colleges and universities.
No. 3 was Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who put $372.6 million into the Allen Institute for Brain Science, Seattle's Experience Music Project and other charitable ventures.
The Post and Courier contributed to this report.