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Bay State donors among elite givers in the US

$30m gifts to Harvard, NU put Mass. donors in rare company

Three Massachusetts philanthropists ranked among the nation’s 50 largest donors to charitable organizations in 2012, according to a report Monday by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Only New York and California had more residents on the list.

The Boston donors, which include one couple, all ranked 40th on the list, tying the likes of filmmaker Steven Spielberg, with $30 million donations each. And in the case of the Massachusetts donors, all the gifts went to higher education.

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Joseph O’Donnell, founder of concessions giant Boston Culinary Group, and his wife, Katherine, gave $30 million to Harvard University. Meanwhile, venture capitalist Richard D’Amore and Clean Harbors Inc. founder Alan McKim teamed up to give $30 million each to Northeastern University for its business school last September.

The combined $60 million was the largest gift in Northeastern’s history. D’Amore and McKim both dropped out of Northeastern as undergraduates but later returned. D’Amore, cofounder of North Bridge Venture Partners in Waltham, earned his MBA there in 1976; McKim, whose Norwell company provides hazardous waste cleanup, graduated from the executive MBA program in 1988.

Northeastern has named the D’Amore-McKim School of Business after the two men, who also serve as trustees of the university. Joseph E. Aoun, president of the university, said he had to talk them into the naming.

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“This is where I had dead silence,’’ Aoun said. “I had to convince them that putting their names forward was going to help the school.”

The Chronicle’s report counts new pledges and donations made in 2012, not money paid to fulfill pledges from prior years. Nationally, investor Warren Buffett was the largest donor, at $3.1 billion, followed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, who gave $499 million.

High on the list, at number nine, are Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who gave $143 million to their Needham-based medical research foundation and other causes. Sheldon Adelson is a Las Vegas casino mogul who grew up in Dorchester.

He made the large charitable contribution last year even after giving major donations to super PACs supporting Republican candidates for president.

The median amount given away by Philanthropy 50 donors in 2012 was $49.6 million, down from a high of $74.7 million in 2007, before the recession. In 2011, the nation’s largest donors gave a median of $61 million.

The super-rich who tend to populate this list are generally less affected by the economy than the merely wealthy, according to Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

While the threat of higher taxes didn’t push overall donations into record territory, it may have helped community foundations, which took in more from wealthy donors last year than in the prior decade combined.

Seven community foundations received a total of $1.1 billion in gifts and pledges from the nation’s wealthiest donors, the Chronicle reported.

That’s in keeping with the experience at the Boston Foundation, which experienced brisk giving at the end of last year, as previously reported by the Globe.

Among all the gifts by top-50 donors around the country last year, New England organizations benefited from 16 of them, including 11 in Massachusetts, four in Maine, and one in New Hampshire — Dartmouth College.

Among the Bay State recipients were Boston College, Boston College High School, Hebrew SeniorLife, and the Cape Cod Healthcare Foundation.

Though not true locally, the Chronicle found that more donors than ever before on the list were under age 40. In fact, three of the top five donors (or donor couples) were under 40.

Beth Healy can be reached at bhealy@globe.com.

Correction: An earlier version of this story failed to note that the Adelsons’ $143 million went to a number of causes.

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