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Gates, wife donate $5 billion to foundation

SEATTLE -- In what is considered the largest gift ever by a living person to a foundation, Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda French Gates, on Wednesday announced a gift of $5 billion to the William H. Gates Foundation.

The couple's philanthropies now rank third among U.S. foundations, if the $1.3 billion assets of the Gates Learning Foundation are added. Only the David and Lucile Packard Foundation at $12.2 billion and the Lily Endowment at $12 billion are larger, according to June figures from the Chronicle of Philanthropy, a newspaper based in Washington.The combined endowment of the Gates foundations is now $11.3 billion, larger than that of the Ford Foundation, which has $11.1 billion in assets, said Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle. By itself, the William H. Gates Foundation ranks fourth.

"That's just huge, $5 billion in one fell swoop," Palmer said. "It sets the sights of various philanthropists that much higher, that someone is putting that much money into philanthropy."

The latest Gates donation came from Microsoft stock the couple sold, a foundation spokesman said.

The William H. Gates Foundation focuses on child and maternal health in developing countries and education and community assistance in the Pacific Northwest. The Gates Learning Foundation is designed to address the "digital divide" between people who have access to technology and those who do not.