Charitable giving was down last year according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a newspaper of the nonprofit world, which published its list of the top 50 donors on Tuesday.

Only $4.1 billion went to charity in 2009, less than in all but one year since the Chronicle began tracking the biggest philanthropists in 2000. The median gift was $41.4 million compared with $69.3 million in 2008 and $74.7 million in 2007. “It was a very down year in terms of actual numbers of gifts,” says Chronicle Editor Stacy Palmer. “There was a 75% drop in funding by the 50 biggest givers.”

This year the charitably inclined are giving more to fund “issue” charities such as those dealing with climate change, says Palmer. For example, the Chronicle reported that hedge-fund manager George Soros, who presciently made a lot of money from the financial crisis last year, gave $50-million to establish the Institute for New Economic Thinking at Central European University in Budapest. The institute’s first conference, in April, will examine why economic theories failed to predict the global recession. Other donors gave money to universities that had programs working on climate change.

There were far fewer anonymous gifts last year than there had been in the past, says Palmer and there were more younger givers than before with four philanthropists under age 50. These included ebay [EBAY] founders Pierre and Pam Omidyar, who gave $50 million of their $94 million in gifts to a community foundation in their home state of Hawaii, partly to help people make it through the economic downturn through credit counseling, advice on foreclosures and access to government programs. Also under 50 were Mark W. and Stacey Miller Yusko, who made a $35 million to the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana to create a merit scholarship program. Mark Yusko owns Morgan Creek Capital Management, in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Most of the donors are making such gifts while they are still alive, there were only 9 bequests in the top 50. Of course with nine donors over 90 years of age, there are less bequests to be had. Also unusual this year was a $100 million gift to Habitat for Humanity donated by J. Ronald and Frances Terwilliger. “Social services groups don’t usually get such big gifts,” primarily because they don’t have the sophisticated fundraising operations that colleges and hospitals have, says Palmer. The majority of money is slated to help poor people in emering markets repair their homes.

Though it’s too soon to say, 2010 promises to be a better year for philanthropy, according to Palmer. “Philanthropists are at least talking to fund raisers, last year they were just stopped in their tracks,” she says. “Giving often mirrors the market and economic conditions.”

The Chronicle’s top 10 philanthropists of 2009 are:

1. Stanley F. and Fiona Drunkenmiller gave $705 million to their foundation. Drunkenmiller is a former Dreyfus portfolio manager and founder of Dusquesne Capital Management in Pittsburgh.

2. John Templeton left $532 million to his foundation dedicated to explorations into the laws of nature and the universe to questions on the nature of love, gratitude, forgiveness, and creativity. Templeton was a pioneer global investor and father of eponymous fund family.

3. Bill and Melinda Gates gave $350 million to the Gates Foundation.

4. Michael Bloomberg gave an estimated $254 million to various causes.

5. Louise Dieterle Nippert, heir to Proctor & Gamble fortune, donated $185 million to local Cincinnati arts groups in part insisting that they work together to survive.

6. George Soros gave a total of $150 million to numerous causes.

7. Eli and Edythe L. Broad. Eli Broad is founding chairman of KB Home Corp. and SunAmerica both in Los Angeles. He and his wife pledged $105.2 million to their foundation.

8. J. Ronald and Francis Terwillinger, pledged $102 million to Habitat for Humanity International to be paid upon his death. He is chairman of Trammell Crow Residential, a Dallas real-estate company.

9. William P. Clements founder of oil company Sedco and two-time governor of Texas pledged $100 million to the University of Southern Texas Southwestern Medical Foundation in Dallas.

10. Pierre and Pam Omidyar pledged $92 million, mostly to Hawaii Community Foundation.

Source: The Chronicle of Philanthropy