Billions and Billions: The Million-Dollar Gift-Givers

Philanthropic giving constitutes roughly 2% of the U.S. economy. In 2014, it totaled $358 billion. Who gives all that money, and where does it go?

Small donations from average people make up a considerable proportion of total donations. But then there are the large donors, individuals and groups who can donate $1 million or more. Scientists, colleges and universities, artists, nonprofits, and many others are obviously interested in knowing more about these types of donors.

A database, called the Million Dollar List, has compiled information on gifts of $1 million and more since 2000. A team of researchers from Indiana University mined it for patterns in giving, and their findings were published recently in PLoS ONE.

The authors examined 76,761 gifts totaling $440 billion. About 1/3 of the data was derived from public announcements and covers the years 2000-2014; the other 2/3 of the data was derived from tax records and covers the years 2000-2011. Altogether, their data set contained information on 14,937 donors, categorized as follows:

Individuals: 6,887
Foundations: 6,531
Corporations: 1,519
(Anonymous: 1,032)

The map below depicts the locations of the donors, and the size of the circle for each donor is proportional to the total amount of giving. The five largest donors are marked with red circles.

The authors also examined those donors who provided $1 billion or more in total gifts from 2000 to 2014. The chart below depicts the recipients of those funds:

The authors' analysis also indicated that donations tend to be local. Most remained within the United States, and there is a preference for donations to remain geographically close to the donors, particularly for non-higher education.

Finally, it is worth noting that when politicians discuss budget cuts, that does not mean that entire sectors like arts and humanities will disappear. Clearly, there are plenty of philanthropic millionaires, wealthy foundations, and charitable corporations that are willing to lend a hand. The key is to find them, and it is perhaps best to start by searching for the Good Samaritan in your neighborhood.

Source: Una O. Osili, et al. “Philanthro-metrics: Mining multi-million-dollar gifts.” PLoS ONE 12(5): e0176738. Published: 26-May-2017. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0176738