The story so far

Celebrating and inspiring philanthropy around the world.

Major philanthropy plays an important role in strengthening social, cultural and economic development around the world. The 2016 Coutts Million Dollar Donors Report tracked 2,197 donations worth an incredible $56bn across the UK, USA and Middle East (GCC)[1], covering the period January to December 2015. It is encouraging that the total number and total value of donations has increased dramatically in comparison to last year’s report.

Coutts first produced the Million Pound Donors Report, focused on the UK, in 2008. Since then its geographical scope expanded to include the USA, the Middle East (GCC), China, Hong Kong, Russia, Singapore and South Africa. For this 2016 report, we provide insights into trends in million-dollar giving in the UK, the USA, and the Middle East (GCC). For the first time, we also include a discussion section and donor case studies illustrating the richness and diversity of philanthropy across Continental Europe. Data and analysis from previous years remain available to read on this website, creating a body of information and insights that represents 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 and visions for a better future. We are very grateful to the donors who have kindly shared their personal experiences of philanthropy with us over the years.

The social, economic and political contexts of the regions covered in the report vary enormously. For example, data on major giving is relatively accessible in the UK and the USA compared to other regions we have featured during the lifetime of this report. Some donations are also made out of the public eye. As a result, 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, and are not tracked in this report. These considerations mean that it would be misleading to make direct comparisons between the jurisdictions covered.

This report tells a very positive story about the growth in major giving, 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.

Regional headlines

The value of donations worth more than $1m more than trebled when compared to the previous year.

In 2015 there were 2,197 donations, worth a combined $56bn, across the UK, USA and Middle East (GCC). The overall value increased significantly compared to the $17bn donated in the same regions the previous year. There was one single gift of $32bn, but even discounting that, the value of donations rose more than 41%. The number of donations increased by 57% compared to 2014.


The UK saw an increase of 17% in the total value of donations (from £1.56bn to £1.83bn) and an increase of 19% in the number of donations (from 298 to 355) of £1m or more, compared to 2014.

Number of donations: 355

Total value of donations: £1.83bn

Main donors: Foundations continued to account for over half the total value of donations, although all donor types increased their giving from 2014 levels 

Most popular causes: Higher education and foundations dominated, receiving 48% and 19% of the total value respectively


The number of donations in the US increased by an incredible 71% (from 1,064 to 1,823).

Number of donations: 1,823

Total value of donations: $19.30bn

Main donors: Individuals gave 59% more gifts than in 2014, accounting for almost half the total value of donations

Most popular causes: Higher education and foundations dominated, receiving 48% and 19% of the total value respectively

Middle East (GCC)

The number of donations decreased from 2014 but the total value increased dramatically thanks to one pledge of $32bn by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

Number of donations: 20

Total value of donations: $33.9bn

Main donors: Individuals accounted for 98% of the total value

Most popular causes: Overseas institutions received 80% of the total number of donations, but foundations received 94% of the total value


Foundations and Higher Education

popular destinations for mega-grants in 2015

Philanthropy on the up

Our report highlights a remarkable increase in major philanthropy in 2015.

Over the years of producing this report we have often noted that major changes in the total value of million-dollar donations from one year to the next can be attributed to the presence or absence of one or two unusually large ‘mega gifts’. However, while the pledge of $32bn in Saudi Arabia clearly had an impact on the total value of donations in 2015, this year's report demonstrates a much more fundamental upward trend which is very encouraging. 

The UK, USA and Middle East (GCC) collectively accounted for a much higher number of donations than we recorded across eight regions in last year's report. And even if the $32bn pledge is taken out of the equation, these three regions still contributed almost the same total value ($24bn) as that given across the eight regions in 2014 ($24.5bn).

The UK and USA saw significant uplift in the number and overall value of donations, with donors of all types increasing their giving from 2014 levels. The Middle East had a lower number of donations than in 2014, and those that were made had a lower average value, but the region’s total still rose thanks to the pledge of $32bn. Large donations across the three regions also contributed to the growth in overall value. For example, there were a number of ‘mega gifts’ in the US – such as the $2.86bn given by Warren Buffett – while two further gifts of $100m+ were made in the Middle East and the UK saw a higher proportion of gifts at the £10m+ level than in 2014. 

Popular recipients

Foundations top the list for the first time, but higher education continues to prove popular among major donors.

As a result of the $32bn pledge to Alwaleed Philanthropies, the foundation sector topped the combined list of recipients for the first time since we have produced this report. Because of this ‘mega gift’, donations to foundations comprised 65% of the total value of gifts ($36.3bn of the $56bn total), even though they only make up 4% of the total number of gifts (96 of the 2,197 total).

Even without the $32bn pledge, however, foundations would still have ranked as the second most popular destination after higher education, highlighting the trend for many individuals and companies to organise their giving by ‘banking’ funds in a foundation to be allocated over time, often to various causes. Indeed, the two biggest single donations in the UK in 2015 were given to individuals’ charitable foundations.  

Higher education continued to receive by far the highest number of million-dollar donations, accounting for 48% of the total number of gifts. In line with the significant rise in giving across the UK and US, higher education saw a jump from 2014 in both the number of donations received (from 798 to 1,047) and their combined value (from $7.58bn to $10.2bn). 

Several factors underpin higher education’s enduring popularity with major donors. Universities are large institutions that have the capacity to utilise significant sums, and can demonstrate a track record of impact that appeals to donors.  Education is viewed by many donors as a key route to creating long-term change in society, and the variety of activities on campuses also creates opportunities to accommodate the interests and passions of many different donors, who are alumni in many cases.

Million-dollar donations shared by more recipients

The increased number of million-dollar donations is shared among a growing pool of recipients.

The rise in the number of donations in 2015 was in part reflected by an increase in the number of organisations benefiting from these gifts. In the UK, the number of distinct beneficiaries rose by nearly 10% (from 243 to 267) compared to 2014, while in the US the increase was even more marked, at 64% (from 724 to 1,189). The growth in the number of recipients of million-dollar donations is a positive sign regarding the breadth and variety of charitable activity benefiting from major philanthropy.  

It remains rare for an organisation to receive multiple $1m+ gifts in any one year (in both the UK and US only about 20% of beneficiaries received more than one donation), but 2015 did see a marked increase in organisations in the UK receiving multiple donations.





2,197 donations




96 donations




1,047 donations




101 donations




204 donations




193 donations




125 donations




138 donations




141 donations




60 donations




14 donations




34 donations




23 donations




21 donations


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

Emerging trends

This report captures data on donations from or to charitable organisations, but in recent years we have seen a trend for some donors to move beyond traditional grant-making and explore additional ways of creating social or environmental benefit.

Leveraging all assets

The case-study interviews we have conducted for recent editions of this report – as well as observations of broader trends in the philanthropic landscape – suggest that there is greater awareness about the potential of leveraging all assets to create social or environmental change. This is particularly evident among foundations with endowments who are pro-actively seeking to adopt practices such as responsible investment and social investment (sometimes known as impact investing), recognising that the endowment has traditionally been an untapped yet significant source of power that can be leveraged to achieve change.

Moreover, interviews with donors across all regions have highlighted how many major donors often choose to do more than give money and seek to draw on their time, expertise, networks and convening power in achieving their mission and objectives. 

Different structures

One of the most high profile philanthropic pledges from 2015 is conspicuous by its absence in our report, namely the creation of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan with a proposed 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.

The couple’s use of a Limited Liability Company for philanthropy attracted much interest, highlighting a growing debate about the structures through which philanthropists might deploy their resources to achieve change. The Omidyar Network, for example, has a hybrid structure with a Limited Liability Company alongside its non-profit organisation.

The use of such for-profit structures is still rare, however, and the fact that foundations have featured so prominently on our list of most popular recipients for million-dollar giving over several years suggests that they remain the vehicle of choice for many major donors. 

Changing political and economic landscape

There is no doubt that the changing political and economic landscape can influence the scale and focus of major giving across all regions covered in this report. For example, research on million-dollar donors in the USA suggests that when the economy is performing well, there is a rise in the number and scale of major donations. And qualitative research suggests that during periods of economic uncertainty, donors can feel more hesitant about making major commitments. It is yet to be seen what the challenges and opportunities may be for philanthropy as a result of the recent changes in the political landscape, such as the UK referendum vote to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States.