Major Gifts

San Diego: A city of philanthropists

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Last week, The Chronicle of Philanthropy released an article on the 50 Most Generous Donors of 2011. Fourteen of these 5o donors live in California and Number 22 and Number 24 of that list were two of San Diego’s most well-known philanthropists.


America’s Finest City is home to many of the world’s most generous philanthropists who have given millions and billions to support the nearly 10,000 nonprofit organizations in San Diego County. Here is a glimpse of some of the largest gifts made by people with of big hearts in our fine city.

Joan and Irwin Jacobs (#22 on Chronicle list), founding CEO of Qualcomm, are probably the most well-known philanthropists in town for saving the arts. In 2002, the couple pledged $120 million – that remains the largest gift to an orchestra ever in the United States – to the Opera in their greatest time of need to provide a new foundation of sustainability. In 2003, the Jacobs pledged $110 million – the largest gift in the history of the university – to the Jacobs School of Engineering followed by a gift of $75 million in April 2010 to build the Jacobs Medical Center on UCSD’s east campus in La Jolla – the largest gift in the history of UC San Diego Health Sciences.

Conrad Prebys (#24 on Chronicle list), noted San Diego developer and philanthropist, donated $45 million – the largest in the history of Scripps Health and the largest he has ever made – to the Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla campus in July 2011. Mr. Prebys is probably best known for his support of the San Diego Zoo. In 2011, he gave $15 million – the largest single gift in the history of the Zoo – and in 2007, he gave $10.1 million making him the largest single donor to the Zoo at over $25 million.

Darlene Shiley, widow of Donald Shiley, co-inventor of Bjork-Shiley heart valve who passed away on July 31, 2010, donated $20 million to the University of San Diego to enable the campus to create a school of engineering in September 2012. This is their second gift of $20 million – the first going to the Old Globe Theatre to name named the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage in 2006. Their gift of $10 million in 2003 supported the University’s Center for Science and Technology. By Darlene’s estimate, the couple has donated about $93 million. But she views the percentage of income donated — 50 percent to 75 percent a year.

Ernest and Evelyn Rady and their family committed gifts of $60 million  – the largest gift in the hospital’s history and one of the largest in San Diego history – to the renamed Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego in June 2006.

Joan Kroc, widow of Ray Kroc who founded the McDonald’s Corporation, passed away in 2003 and bequeathed over a billion to nonprofits all over San Diego including the Salvation Army who received $1.6 billionthe largest gift ever given to a charity, NPR who received a bequest of more than $200 million$60 million to Ronald Mac Donald Houses, $50 million to the University San Diego, 50 million Notre Dame, $20 million to San Diego Hospice, $10 million to the Zoo, $10 million to the San Diego Opera, $5 million to KPBS in San Diego and $500,000 to Mama’s Kitchen in San Diego.

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