* Experts say results appear to indicate optimism about market

* 52 percent gave to political campaigns in 2011

By Jessica Toonkel

Oct 3 (Reuters) - Wealthy U.S. investors plan to donate more to charity in the next three to five years or continue giving at current levels, and about half contributed to political campaigns last year, according to survey results released on Wednesday.

The findings appear to indicate that wealthy investors are optimistic about the stock market and their financial well-being, said Una Osili, director of research for the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, which conducts the biennial study.

"We have more than 50 years of data to show that charitable giving is affected when the stock market is uncertain," she said.

In periods of recession, such as 2001-2002 and 2008-2009, the number of gifts per quarter is less than half that in more prosperous periods, according to a 2011 study by Indiana University.

Twenty-four percent of the 700 high-net-worth investors surveyed said they planned to give more to charities in the next three to five years, while 52 percent said they would give as much as they do now, according to the study sponsored by Bank of America Corp. Nine percent said they planned to give less in that time.

Wealthy investors are making donations to political campaigns as well as charities.

Fifty-two percent of respondents said they had given to political causes in 2011 for purpose of electing or defeating a candidate. That is much higher than the average 10 percent to 12 percent of mainstream investors who do so, Osili said.

The high percentage of wealthy investors who said they were had contributed to political campaigns "is really significant given that 2011 was not an election year," said Claire Costello, philanthropic practice executive for U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management.

This was the first time that Bank of America asked the question, so could not provide historical context.

The political donations by wealthy investors are unlikely to interfere with their charitable giving, said Ken Nopar, a consultant to financial advisers.

"It's usually above and beyond what they give to charity," he said.

The nationwide survey was conducted by mail from April to August. It is based on responses from 700 U.S. households with a net worth of more than $1 million, excluding the value of their home, and/or annual income of more than $200,000.

Sixty percent of the wealthy investors surveyed said education was the among the top social issues that mattered to them, while 45 percent said health care, 38 percent said the economy and 34 percent said poverty.

Regardless, 36 percent of wealthy donors directed their largest gifts in 2011 to religion, while 25 percent donated to educational institutions and 8 percent to healthcare organizations.

Click through the slideshow below to read about 9 billionaires who have pledged half of their wealth to charity.


Loading Slideshow...
  • George Lucas

    Hollywood director George Lucas is passionate about education. He has worked to foster positive growth in the education sector through, <a href="http://www.edutopia.org/" target="_hplink">Edutopia</a>, the George Lucas Education Foundation. Lucas plans to donate the majority of his fortune to this end.

  • Paul G. Allen

    Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has supported his namesake, the <a href="http://www.pgafoundations.com/" target="_hplink">Paul G. Allen Family Foundation</a>, for more than 20 years, as well as helped advance nonprofit scientific research through the Allen Institute for Brain Science. Allen has already given hundreds of millions of dollars to charity through his foundation, and has expressed his commitment to give the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/15/paul-allens-charity-promi_n_648142.html" target="_hplink">majority of his fortune</a> after his death.

  • David Rockefeller

    The Rockefeller family has historically been involved in philanthropic efforts supporting University of Chicago, <a href="http://www.rockefeller.edu/" target="_hplink">The Rockefeller University</a>, the Museum of Modern Art, and the <a href="http://www.rbf.org/" target="_hplink">Rockefeller Brothers Fund</a>. David Rockfeller, the current heir, has pledged the majority of his wealth to charity.

  • Michael Bloomberg

    Mayor of New York City Michael R. Bloomberg plans to give away the majority of his wealth during his lifetime, explaining that it is a better way to ensure a <a href="http://givingpledge.org/#michael+r.+_bloomberg" target="_hplink">better future for his children</a> than leaving them to inherit his fortune. According to Bloomberg, his <a href="http://www.mikebloomberg.com/index.cfm?objectid=B96D19BD-C29C-7CA2-F72C5EDC3BEDFA6A" target="_hplink">foundation</a> is currently working to find ways to prevent early deaths caused by tobacco use and traffic accidents.

  • Barron Hilton

    Barron Hilton (left) plans to immediately pledge over $1 billion to the <a href="http://www.hiltonfoundation.org/" target="_hplink">Conrad N. Hilton Foundation</a>, which provides funds for nonprofits addressing a variety of issues, including homelessness, access to clean water and disaster relief. Hilton also plans to follow an example set for him by his father, donating the remaining 97 percent of his wealth in the future.

  • Jon and Karen Huntsman

    After losing his mother to cancer, businessman Jon Huntsman felt called to found the <a href="http://www.hci.utah.edu/" target="_hplink">Huntsman Cancer Institute</a> and use his fortune to find a cure for cancer. Huntsman plans to leave his entire estate to his foundation and other cancer-related charities.

  • Ted Turner

    In 1998, media mogul Ted Turner donated $1 billion to start the <a href="http://www.unfoundation.org/about-unf/" target="_hplink">United Nations Foundation</a>. Turner plans to continue giving, saying that his fortune should be almost completely distributed to charity at the time of his death.

  • Alfred Mann

    In 1985, businessman Alfred Mann founded the <a href="http://www.aemf.org/" target="_hplink">Alfred Mann Foundation</a> to fund scientific research in the field of medicine. Mann has joined the ranks of the 'Giving Pledge,' planning to commit 90 percent of his estate to his foundation and other causes.

  • Eli and Edythe Broad

    Billionaire businessman and real estate mogul Eli Broad and his wife, Edythe, have pledged to give away 75 percent of their fortune within their lifetimes. The <a href="http://www.broadfoundation.org/" target="_hplink">Broad Foundation</a> supports arts organizations, funds advancements in medical science and advocates for education reform.

Related on HuffPost: