Million dollar giving remained strong last year in the US, though it failed to match the highs of 2013.
A mammoth $14bn was given in million dollar donations in 2014, though this figure undershot that of the previous year. Both the number and value of gifts declined overall from 2013 to 2014.
As in 2013, the overall value of million dollar donations was boosted by some very large gifts. Charitable contributions in excess of $10m made up more than a fifth of the overall number in 2014.
While the share of corporate giving held steady from the previous year, foundation giving fell from 49% of gifts in 2013 to 36%. By contrast, individual donors increased their number of million dollar gifts from 435 to 542 over the year – though the total value of donations by individuals declined slightly, from $10.08bn to $9.41bn. More individual donors were giving, more often, but in smaller amounts.
As in previous years, donors were spread throughout the country, though philanthropists from the Midwest – notably Warren Buffett – provided the greatest monetary value. Non-profits in the South and the West received the highest number of million dollar donations, though it was causes in the West that received larger amounts.
Higher education claimed more than half the number of donations (56%) and 42% of the overall value of gifts in 2014, continuing a trend that has been evident in recent years. Foundations remained the second-highest category of recipient, enjoying 20% of the total value.
Number and value of million dollar donations
The number and total value of million dollar gifts declined in 2014 from a high point the previous year.
The value of million dollar donations totalled $14.11bn in 2014, falling from $16.92bn over the previous year – though it remained slightly higher than 2012 levels.
The number of donations also dropped from 2013 levels – from 1,173 to 1,064 – a decline of 9% to a new low.
Despite the overall declines, the number of distinct individual donors rose from 382 to 477 in 2014 – a 25% increase – though the overall value of such donations slipped slightly to $9.41bn from $10.08bn. But given that individuals gave $6.74bn in 2012, this still represents a significant rise in giving by individuals over time.
Average size of million dollar donations
While down on 2013 levels, the average value of million dollar donations last year remained the third largest of the past decade.
The average (mean) donation declined slightly from $14.4m in 2013 to $13.3m in 2014. However, it remains the third-largest average figure in the past decade and is significantly higher than the 2012 mean of $9.9m.
Both the median donation (the middle value when they are placed in ascending order) and the mode have remained constant since 2012, at $2.5m and $1m respectively.
Value of million dollar donations
Key donors made the greatest impact, but more than one in five gifts in 2014 were worth $10m or above.
The largest newly-announced gift in 2014 was Ted Stanley’s donation of $650m to the Broad Institute to support the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research. This was followed by Jerry Perenchio’s $500m in-kind gift of artwork to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
In addition, Warren Buffett donated $2.1bn to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which represents his annual contribution as part of the $30bn pledge he made in 2006. Buffet complemented this last year with multiple large gifts primarily to his family’s foundations: $215m to the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation; and $150m each to the Sherwood Foundation, the Howard G Buffett Foundation and the NoVo Foundation. This brought Buffet’s total 2014 million dollar giving to $2.8bn.
As in 2013, more than a fifth of donations (240) were worth at least $10m. The largest number of donations (432 or 41%) were under $2m, with a similar number in the $2m-$10m range (392 or 37%).
 TL O’Brien and S Saul, Buffett to give bulk of his fortune to Gates charity, New York Times, 2006
Source of million dollar donations
Individuals were the standout donors in 2014.
Individuals were the bedrock of the million dollar giving scene in the US, providing more than half the donations in 2014 and two-thirds of the overall value (542 donations totalling $9.41bn).
By contrast, million dollar giving by foundations was down by a third, tumbling from 575 to 388 gifts and from $5.93bn to $4.02bn.
Corporations and corporate foundations had the lowest share of the total, with 134 donations equating to $0.68bn or 5% of the total value of gifts – though at least this figure held steady from the previous year.
Location of million dollar donations
The biggest concentration of million dollar donors was in the South, but those in the Midwest gave more in 2014.
As was the case in 2013, donors in the South gave the greatest number of million dollar donations. But these gifts were smaller on average than in other regions and comprised just 15% of the total value.
In a break from previous years, donors in the Midwest gave the highest proportion of the total value of million dollar gifts, at 30%, partly as a result of the largesse of resident Warren Buffett.
Recipients of million dollar donations
Four-fifths of recipients received only one donation of a million dollars or more in 2014.
A total of 724 organisations received million dollar donations in 2014, a 10% fall compared to 2013. But consistent with that year, the largest proportion of recipients was in the South (33%), followed by the Midwest (25%). The biggest share in overall value (39%) went to organisations in the West.
Most recipients received only one donation worth a million dollars or more (577 non-profits, or 80%). A handful of organisations received more than one donation, with the biggest beneficiary, Michigan State University, receiving nine separate gifts.
Distribution of million dollar donations
Higher education remained the destination of choice for the bulk of million dollar donors.
As in 2013, the sector that benefitted the most from million dollar donations in 2014 was higher education – and by some margin, at 42% of the overall value. This totalled nearly $6bn in 2014, down from a 2013 high point of $7.25bn, but still higher than 2012 levels. In second place were foundations, which received 20% of the total value. Together, these two sub-sectors accounted for 62% of the value of all gifts.
Gifts to overseas organisations saw a significant fall from 2013, dropping from 13% of the total value to 2%, or $2.14bn to $245m.
DISTRIBUTION ACROSS SUBSECTORS IN 2014
 ‘Overseas’ refers to non-profit organisations headquartered outside the US, regardless of the purpose of the gift, for example donations to schools and hospitals in Europe.
 ‘International’ refers to non-profit organisations based in the US that operate primarily outside the US.