The story so far

Celebrating and inspiring philanthropy around the world.

Our findings in the 2015 Coutts Million Dollar Donors Report paint an interesting picture of major donations given by individuals, foundations and corporations. We tracked 1,831 donations worth an impressive total of $24.5bn across eight regions in 2014 – compared to 1,995 donations amounting to $26.3bn in the previous year – with the report delving beyond the headline figures to explore the trends and factors influencing major giving.

Coutts has produced the Million Pound Donors Report since 2008 to provide insight into major UK philanthropy. In 2013, we decided to cast our net wider to capture also the scale and nature of donations of $1m or more in the US, Russia, Middle East (GCC[1]), China and Hong Kong. In 2014 we added Singapore. This year, we have featured South Africa for the first time, and have included case studies and a discussion section for India. The result is a report that is a leading authority on major philanthropy internationally.

Our report is about more than just data. The inspiring interviews with major donors demonstrate that philanthropy is driven by their values, passions, interests or visions for a better future. We are grateful to the individuals and organisations that kindly shared their personal experiences of philanthropy with us.

The social, economic and political contexts for the eight regions we looked at vary enormously. Data on donations of $1m or more may be easily accessible in countries like the UK and the US, but in other regions it is not as readily available. This is particularly true for Russia and South Africa, where lack of public data means that researchers have gathered information by means of a survey. Whether the lack of accessible information is due to the relative infancy of the philanthropic sector, or because of cultural or political factors that encourage major donors to stay out of the public eye, the result is that the true scale of giving in some areas is likely to be considerably larger than we report. We would also like to acknowledge the vast number of donations that occur below the $1m threshold, which are not tracked in this report.

These considerations mean that it would be misleading to make direct comparisons between the jurisdictions covered. This report nonetheless gives a strong sense of how philanthropy is growing and changing in each region, and which causes and communities attract the most attention. 

[1] The Gulf Cooperation Council consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The impact of mega-grants

For the purpose of this report, the term ‘mega-grant’ refers to any single donation of more than US$100m. While the report focuses exclusively on amounts in excess of $1m – which, of course, are already very large gifts – mega-grants inevitably have an especially significant impact on the data for any given region.

Mega-grants are normally non-repeating gifts from a single donor (ie they are unlikely to be given again, at least not in successive years). A notable exception to this is Warren Buffett’s $30bn pledge made in 2006 to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has seen him regularly give around $2bn per annum since then. The ‘one-off’ nature of mega-grants means that they can cause fluctuations in both the overall numbers and sub-sector breakdowns, and can seemingly alter an apparent trend. So the numbers for a given region can be artificially inflated in one year and apparently depleted in the next.

Indeed, mega-grants - particularly those in excess of $1bn - influence the report in a way that can mask more subtle trends in the findings. Donor type, geographical distribution and sub-sector popularity can be affected. Mega-grants are often given to a single organisation or cause, so while the value going to the recipient in question may be higher, it’s worth looking beyond this to the number of million dollar gifts in order to assess the true popularity of a given cause. This is one of the reasons why we report both the number and value of gifts awarded to each type of recipient, as it may reveal subtleties that are obscured by absolute monetary amounts. In 2014, for example, year-on-year growth in North Asia (China and Hong Kong) was fuelled substantially by mega-grants, while in the Middle East and the US, figures for 2014 appear to have fallen significantly as some mega-grants made in 2013 were not repeated.

It is worth noting that mega-grants are sometimes given in order to establish a new foundation, such as in the case of Jack Ma and Joe Tsai of Alibaba Group (see China and Hong Kong findings respectively) who each donated significant lump sums to establish their private foundations. It is likely that these foundations will, over time, distribute smaller amounts to a range of causes as they establish their focus and begin to act.

Notable mega-grants in 2014, together adding up to almost $9bn:

US: $2.1bn as part of Warren Buffett’s annual contribution to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; $650m by Ted Stanley to fund the Stanley Centre for Psychiatric Research; and $500m gift-in-kind by Jerry Perenchio to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

UK: £105m to establish the Bet365 Foundation and £60m to Great Ormond Street Hospital

Singapore: $374m given by the Tote Board to various causes. This organisation is unique in that it is mandated by the government to give away its revenues

Middle East: $232m by the Saudi Fund for Development to foreign aid in Jordan; $149.6m by the Chairman of Al Jaber Group to a children’s hospital in Egypt; and $104m by the Saudi Islamic Development Bank to the UN World Food Programme (funding aid for refugees in Syria, Ethiopia and Kenya). But the non-repetition of 2013’s $1.25bn gift by the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development means that the Middle East total in 2014 was down substantially on the previous year

Hong Kong: $1.18bn by Joe Tsai of Alibaba Group to establish a private foundation; $350m by the Morningside Foundation to the Harvard School of Public Health; $167m by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust for a teaching hospital at The Chinese University of Hong Kong; $167m by the Galaxy Entertainment Group to establish a corporation foundation supporting Macau; and $150m by Ronald Chao of Novel Enterprises to establish the Ba Xian Education Foundation

China: $2.37bn by Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba Group, to establish a private charitable trust

It seems that 2014’s mega-grants were overwhelmingly directed towards health and education (particularly higher education). This is unsurprising because organisations such as universities and hospitals are able to absorb such significant amounts and the variety of activities they undertake means that they appeal to a broad range of donors; using funds, for example, to build new infrastructure, undertake new research or develop new programmes.  

Of course, the reported average size of donations is also materially affected by mega-grants. Across our regions, the presence of such gifts has caused the mean donation size to fluctuate significantly across the years, while the median – often a more reliable guide to donation size – has remained relatively constant. Regions such as Russia, the UK or South Africa, where there were few or no mega-grants given in 2014, had much more consistent measures.

Mean and median donations in 2014:  

·         USA: Mean donation size $13.1m; median donation size $2.5m

·         UK: Mean donation size £5.3m; median donation size £2m

·         Singapore: Mean donation size $24.4m; median donation size $3.5m

·         Russia: Mean donation size $5.5m; median donation size $2m

·         Middle East: Mean donation size $26.3m; median donation size $5.2m

·         Hong Kong: Mean donation size $20.9m; median donation size $5.2m

·         China: Mean donation size $17.4m; median donation size $2.2m

·         South Africa: Mean donation size $2.8m; median donation size $1.4m 


Health and Education

popular destinations for mega-grants in 2014

Geographical spread of million dollar donors

London, Shanghai, Moscow and Johannesburg appear to be regional ‘hubs’ for major philanthropy.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found that million dollar donors were largely concentrated in and around major cities. In the UK, London is consistently a significant hub; in 2014, 67% of donations (by value) were given by donors living or based in the capital. In China, the Eastern region (which includes the municipality of Shanghai) produced the most million dollar donations in 2014; 30% of the number and 74% of the value of donations originated here, whereas in the past the Southern region also dominated. In South Africa, many donors remained anonymous, but where their location was known, they tended to be concentrated in the provinces around Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Russia has been an anomaly in the past, with donors more widely spread. This has been driven in part by a requirement for large industrial corporations based in some of the more remote regions to give back to their local communities. However, in 2014 the findings showed an increased concentration of donors around Moscow and the wider Central region; 82% of the total value of donations originated from those with a base in these areas.

The US is a bit of an exception to the rule of donors being concentrated in just a few big cities, with philanthropists tending to be more spread out across the various states. The Midwest, where Warren Buffett is based, had a high concentration in 2014 – 30% of the value of donations came from donors living or based in this region.

The Middle East region covers all GCC countries, meaning location analysis is not directly comparable to the other regions we have reported on. However, we did note that in 2014, 20 of the 34 million dollar grants came from UAE donors, while philanthropists from Saudi Arabia gave the highest proportion of the total value. Given the small size of Hong Kong and Singapore, no detailed donor location analysis was undertaken.

Million dollar donors seem to be concentrated around large cities, with

London, Shanghai, Moscow and Johannesburg

emerging as philanthropy 'hubs'

Repeat gifts

Beneficiaries of repeat gifts

The vast majority of recipients identified in our Million Dollar Donors Report tend to benefit from a single million dollar gift in a given year. While some donors make multi-year commitments that see big awards consistently given to an organisation or project, in 2014 it still remained unusual to see the same organisation benefitting from more than one million dollar gift.

Beneficiaries that are usually awarded gifts from multiple sources over a year are often universities, where reputation can attract a number of major donors; specific projects, such as the new children’s hospital in Johannesburg which received three million dollar gifts in 2014; or in response to events like the Ebola crisis.

· US: Four-fifths of the 724 unique recipients received a single million dollar gift, though     Michigan State University received nine separate gifts

· UK: Only 29 out of 243 organisations received more than one million pound donation. Of these, nine received three or more; most were foundations or universities, although some were health-related causes

· Singapore: 21 recipients received 22 gifts

· Russia: 90% of recipients were awarded a single million dollar gift. One cause was given six such gifts, while four others received two or three.

· Middle East: 27 recipients received a single gift, though one other received three awards and two organisations received two

· Hong Kong: 80 out of 95 unique recipients received a single million dollar gift. Among the 15 that received more than one, The University of Hong Kong was notable in being awarded eight donations.

· China: Almost 70% of recipients received a single million dollar gift in 2014, but 29 of the 99 unique recipients received between two and ten donations. Two particularly popular causes among major donors were the Guangdong Poverty Alleviation Day, which received 20 separate million dollar gifts, and a water treatment project in Zhejiang province, which attracted 15 such donations.

· South Africa: Higher education institutions each received multiple million dollar donations, while the building of a new children’s hospital attracted three large gifts.

Popular causes

Higher education continued to top the list of most popular causes in 2014 in terms of number of donations and overall value, with 798 gifts amounting to $7.58bn. This has been the case since the international report commenced. Foundations were the next most popular beneficiary, receiving $6.77bn from 168 donations.

A look at the individual regions reveals that higher education featured among the top three beneficiaries in six regions, while foundations appeared in five. In the UK, higher education and foundations have continually swapped places at the top spot since the report began in 2008.

Other sub-sectors receiving over $1bn were overseas ($854m of which came from the Middle East); arts, culture & humanities; public & societal benefit; and health.

The amount given to foundations grew by nearly $2bn in 2014 from 2013 levels. This substantial growth suggests that philanthropy is becoming more organised, as individuals and companies tend to ‘bank’ their donations in foundations and then allocate the funds - often to a range of causes - over a period of time.

In terms of the value of gifts received, the arts, culture & humanities jumped three places up the popularity list and received over half a billion dollars more as a sector than in the previous year.

On a regional basis, the Middle East continued to stand out as the vast majority of donations were directed overseas (outside the GCC). Over 95% of the total value of donations were in the ‘overseas’ category in 2014. Disaster relief, human services and international aid were the most popular causes. 





1,831 donations




798 donations




168 donations




61 donations




142 donations




134 donations




87 donations




95 donations




79 donations




120 donations




36 donations




56 donations




16 donations




39 donations


Please see methodology for a full description of each donor and recipient category.



donated in 2014

Trends in philanthropy across the regions

See overview

United Kingdom


donated in 2014

298 donations

See report

United States


donated in 2014

1064 donations

See report

Middle East


donated in 2014

34 donations

See report



donated in 2014

74 donations

See report



donated in 2014

208 donations

See report



donated in 2014

22 donations

See report

Hong Kong


donated in 2014

128 donations

See report

South Africa


donated in 2014

19 donations

See report