2015 shows a full recovery to pre-recession levels of $1m+ giving, with all donor types increasing the number and total value of gifts. The number of gifts also increased by an incredible 71% compared to 2014.
Million-dollar giving in the United States increased drastically in 2015 to $19.30bn, 37% up from $14.11bn in 2014.
As in recent years, the total value was boosted by a significant number of very large gifts. In 2015, gifts valued at $10m or more made up over a fifth (22%) of the number of gifts.
The number and value of $1m+ donations increased from all donor types. Individual donors led the way, as in previous years, giving 47% of the number and 70% of the total value of $1m+ gifts.
Donors were once again spread throughout the country, though philanthropists from the Midwest – notably Warren Buffett – provided the most in terms of monetary value (30%). Non-profits in the South received the highest number of million-dollar donations (33%).
Higher education claimed more than half the number of donations (53%) and 48% of the overall value of gifts in 2015, continuing a trend that has persisted in recent years. Also as in previous years, foundations were the second-highest recipient category with 19% of the total value. This is largely due to Warren Buffett giving a total of $2.86bn to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and foundations linked to Buffett’s family in 2015.
Number and value of million dollar donations
The total value of million-dollar gifts increased in 2015 to a high point unmatched since 2008.
2015 totals represent a significant increase over 2014 from each donor type. Both the number and dollar value of gifts increased from 2014 to 2015, after several years of decline in the number of gifts. The number of gifts increased 71% from 1,064 in 2014 to 1,823 in 2015.
Average size of million dollar donations
The average value of million-dollar donations was lower in 2015 compared to previous years, reflecting the steep increase in the number of gifts.
The average (mean) donation value declined slightly from $13.3m in 2014 to $10.6m in 2015. While this is a significant reduction (a 20% decrease), this is due to the large increase in the number of $1m+ gifts in 2015, which pushed down the average.
Both the median donation (the middle value when they are placed in ascending order) and the mode (the value that occurs most often) remained constant, at $2.5m and $1m, respectively. This has been the case for a number of years.
Value of million dollar donations
Major players continue to make the greatest impact, but more than one in five gifts in 2015 were worth $10m or above.
The largest newly-announced single gift in 2015 was a bequest from John L. Santikos of $605m to the San Antonio Area Foundation, which more than tripled the assets administered by the Foundation. This was followed by a donation of $600m by Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster and former president of Facebook, to establish the Parker Foundation, which will fund life sciences, global public health, and civic engagement.
In addition, Warren Buffett donated $2.86bn to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and four other foundations linked to Buffett’s family (the Susan Thompson Buffett, Howard G. Buffett, Sherwood, and NoVo Foundations). The portion going to the Gates Foundation represents his annual contribution as part of the $30bn pledge he made in 2006.
While much attention was paid to the creation of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, established by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan with an investment of more than $45bn, CZI is a for-profit corporation and thus does not meet our definition of a donation for the purposes of this report. If it were included in our data, it would be by far the largest single donation across all three regions.
As in previous years, more than a fifth of donations (387, or 22%) were worth at least $10m. The largest number of donations (740 or 41%) was in the $2m-$10m range, with a similar number of gifts worth less than $2m (696 gifts, or 38%). This is the first year when gifts in another bracket have outnumbered gifts of $2m or less.
Figures have been rounded to nearest percentage and therefore does not equal 100%
 TL O’Brien and S Saul, Buffett to give bulk of his fortune to Gates charity, New York Times, 2006 http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/26/business/26buffett.html
Source of million dollar donations
Individual $1m+ donations increase by 59%
While each donor type increased their giving, individual donors continued to give the largest portion of $1m+ donations. Individuals provided nearly half the donations in 2015 (861 gifts, 47% of the total number) and more than two-thirds of the overall value ($13.51bn, 70% of the total value). This represents an increase of 59% in the number of individual gifts (from 542 to 861), and an increase of 44% in the total value of gifts, (from $9.41bn to $13.51bn).
The number of gifts from foundations increased 87%, from 388 to 725; the total value of those gifts increased 17%, from $4.02bn to $4.71bn. Foundations held steady in terms of the percentage of the total $1m+ giving, providing 40% of the total number of gifts and 24% of the total value.
Finally, corporations held steady with the lowest share of the total, (providing 13% of $1m+ gifts, and 6% of their value). Corporations and corporate foundations increased their giving by 77% in terms of number of gifts, from 134 to 237 gifts, and by 60% in terms of the value of gifts, from $0.68bn to $1.09bn.
Location of million dollar donations
The biggest concentration of million-dollar donors was in the South, but the largest proportion of dollars came from the Midwest.
The location of donors by number of gifts is relatively similar to previous years, with donors in the South giving the greatest number of donations of $1m or more (540 gifts, or 29% of the total number). However, these gifts were smaller on average than in other regions, comprising 23% of the total value of gifts.
Also similar to 2014, Midwest donors gave the highest proportion of the total value of million-dollar gifts, at 30%, partly as a result of the largest gift from resident Warren Buffett.
Recipients of million dollar donations
The vast majority of recipients received only one donation of a million dollars or more in 2015.
A total of 1,189 organisations received million-dollar donations in 2015, a 64% increase compared to 2014, when 724 organisations received gifts. Consistent with previous years, the largest number of gifts was directed to recipients in the South (33%), followed by the Midwest (26%). The share of the value of $1m+ gifts was spread fairly evenly across regions; the largest share in value (23%) also went to organisations in the South.
The vast majority of recipient organisations received just one donation of a million dollars or more (951 non-profits, or 80% the proportion as in 2014). A small number of organisations received more than one donation. The biggest beneficiary was the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which received 18 separate gifts, followed by the University of California – San Francisco and the University of Notre Dame, each with 13 $1m+ gifts in 2015.
total recipients in 2015
Distribution of million dollar donations
Higher education maintains its place as the top choice of million-dollar donors.
As in previous years, the sector that benefitted the most from million-dollar donations in 2015 was higher education – and by some margin, at 48% of the overall value. This totalled more than $9bn in 2015, a high point since the inception of this report, and up 56% over the value of $5.94bn in 2014. In second place were foundations, which received 19% of the total value (similar to the 20% they received in 2014). The other subsectors received a fairly small share of the total – no other single subsector received more than 10% of the total value. Together, the top two sub-sectors (or causes) accounted for two-thirds (67%) of the value of all gifts.
DISTRIBUTION ACROSS SUBSECTORS IN 2015
 ‘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.