$1 Million-Plus Gifts Reportedly Tripled
nonprofit management tips

At least 2,197 gifts of $1 million or more, totaling $56 billion, were made last year across the United States, the United Kingdom and the Middle East (GCC), marking a significant increase in both the number and total value of gifts compared to the previous year.

The “Million Dollar Donors Report,” produced by Coutts & Co., in association with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, analyzes the number, size and recipients of gifts of $1 million or more given by individuals, foundations and corporations in the U.S., U.K. and the Middle East (Gulf Cooperation Council countries). In 2016 for the first time it also includes a discussion and case studies that illustrate philanthropy across Continental Europe.

“Examining gifts at the $1 million level in multiple countries allows us to gain insights into how top-level donors are giving differently across geography and cultures, and reminds us that philanthropy and generosity are an important part of every culture,” said Amir Pasic, the Eugene R. Tempel Dean of the school. “Americans’ giving does not occur in a vacuum; it’s important to understand how the trends we see in the United States reflect or diverge from the global picture.”

The increase in donations of $1 million or more spanned all three regions studied. The number of donations in the U.S. increased by more than 70 percent (from 1,064 in 2014 to 1,823 in 2015). The total amount of those gifts increased from $14.11 billion to $19.30 billion, an increase of 37 percent. In the U.K., the number of donations increased nearly 20 percent from 198 in 2014 to 355 in 2015. And while the number of donations in the Middle East decreased, the total value climbed dramatically due to a $32 billion pledge by a single donor.

The $56 billion total across the three regions in 2015 climbed substantially compared to the $17 billion donated in the same regions in 2014. Even discounting the $32 billion pledge, the value of donations rose more than 41 percent. Some 85 percent of the gifts in the report were given by individual donors.

The type of organization receiving the greatest portion of funds was foundations, thanks in particular to the $32 billion pledge. However, as in previous years higher education remained a top recipient of million-dollar-plus giving, and it received the greatest number of million-dollar-plus gifts (1,047) in 2015.

The researchers caution that the report should not be used to compare giving by region, as comparisons would be misleading because the nature, structure and stage of philanthropy varies greatly by region, and because data on giving is more accessible in some regions than others. The report is intended as a resource for understanding global trends in philanthropy. A number of trends are worth noting.

Key international findings include:

  • Foundations receive the largest dollar amount in 2015 – Looking at the total across all report regions, foundations topped the list in terms of the value of $1 million-and-above gifts, receiving $36.3 billion from 96 donations. Key to foundations’ place on the list is the $32 billion pledge.
  • Higher education continues to rank high – Giving to higher education institutions, which has frequently been the top cause by total value of gifts in the study in past years, came in second in 2015 in terms of the total value of gifts, but still increased in both the number and total value of gifts over 2014 levels. Higher education received 1,047 million-dollar-plus gifts worth $10.2 billion in 2015.
  • Higher-value donations across all regions contributed to the growth in overall value. There were a number of ‘mega gifts’ in the U.S. – such as the $2.86 billion given by Warren Buffett – while two further gifts of more than $100 million were made in the Middle East, and the U.K. saw a higher proportion of gifts at the £10 million level than in 2014.An increase in $1 million-and-up giving means more organizations benefit – In the U.K., the number of distinct beneficiaries rose by nearly 10 percent (from 243 to 267) compared to 2014, while in the U.S. the increase was even more marked, at 64 percent (from 724 to 1,189). It is still rare for any single organization to receive multiple million-dollar-plus gifts: in both the U.K. and the U.S. only about 20 percent of beneficiaries received more than one such donation.

Key U.S. findings include:

  • In 2015, all types of donors (individuals, foundations and corporations) increased the number and total value of their $1 million-and-up gifts.
  • Individuals gave the greatest portion, contributing 861 gifts totaling $13.5 billion — 47 percent of the total number and 70 percent of the total value.
  • Foundations gave 725 gifts totaling $4.7 billion – 40 percent of the total number and 24 percent of the total value.
  • Corporations made 237 gifts totaling $1.1 billion – 13 percent of the total number and 6 percent of the total value.
  • The largest number of gifts (740 gifts, or 41 percent) were gifts of $2 million to $10 million, with a similar number of gifts worth less than $2 million (696 gifts, or 38 percent). This is the first year when gifts in another bracket have outnumbered gifts of $2 million or less.
  • The average (mean) donation declined from $13.3 million in 2014 to 10.6 million in 2015. The median gift remained similar to previous years, at $2.5 million. The mean decreased because there was such a significant increase in the number of gifts.
  • As in previous years, around four-fifths of all organizations receiving gifts of $1 million or more received only one such donation in 2015 (951 out of the total of 1,189 recipient organizations). A small number of organizations received more than one gift, with the biggest beneficiary, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, receiving 18 separate gifts at that level.
  • Higher education remains the destination of choice for over half of U.S. $1 million donations, receiving 53 percent of the total number and 48 percent of the overall value of $1 million-and-up gifts in 2015 ($9.3 billion), continuing a longstanding trend.
  • Foundations remained the second-highest recipient category in the U.S., receiving 19 percent of the total value given ($3.6 billion).

“The significant growth in million-dollar-plus giving in the U.S. is good news,” said Una Osili, Ph.D., director of research at the school. “For the first time in eight years, we are seeing giving at this level rebound to where it was before the recession. Donors are increasing their support and dedication to the causes they care about.”