Million pound donations in the UK have recovered from the recent dip and now surpass – in terms of the total value – the figures seen in the 2011 and 2012 reports (covering donations in 2009/10 and 2010/11 respectively).

The rise in the median value of gifts is particularly encouraging, as it suggests that those with the capacity to make the biggest donations are responding to requests to ‘give more’.

For this inaugural multi-national Million Dollar Donors Report, we have collected data based on the 2012 calendar year, unlike in previous years when data was collected according to financial years. Readers should bear this in mind when comparing this year’s data with past figures. While this change in time period means we do not provide further detail on the type or destination of those million pound donations made between 6 April and 31 December 2011, we note here that their total value was £512m.

Although 2010/11 and 2012 are both 12-month periods, there is a point to keep in mind when comparing them. Due to the rules surrounding how UK charities compile and submit their accounts, there are implications for which charities’ data can be gathered in a calendar year versus a financial year. Charities in the UK can have a financial year that ends in any month, and in England and Wales they are allowed 10 months after their year-end to submit these accounts to the Charity Commission. Subsequently there are charities which, because of their year-end dates, may have data in the 2010/11 database but not in the 2012 database because their accounts are not due out until after our data collection has been completed. This could be part of the reason why we have found a smaller number of gifts in 2012 than 2010/11. Those gifts made in 2012 that have not yet reached the public record will be included in next year’s report.

Number and value of Million Pound Donations

The total value of charitable donations worth £1m or more rose 9% to £1.35bn in 2012 from £1.24bn in 2010/11, reaching its highest level since the financial crisis hit in 2008/09.

This value was derived from 197 donations – the third highest number of £1m-plus gifts on record since the financial crisis hit in 2006.

Taking into account the £512m donated between 6 April and 31 December 2011, the accumulated value of £1m-plus donations made since 2006 has reached almost £9bn. An increase in the average value of gifts means that the total value of £1m-plus donations increased in 2012, despite a drop in the number of gifts from 2010/11.

While this rise in total giving is welcome, the annual number and value of £1m-plus donations tends to fluctuate rather than show a continuous trend in any one direction. This is because of the tendency of these gifts to be made following wealth-creating events, such as selling a company or coming into an inheritance, rather than from annual income.

Average size of Million Pound Donations

Not only did the total value of million pound donations increase in 2012, but encouragingly, so too did the average donation size.

The average (mean) value in 2012 of £6.9m was significantly higher than the 2010/11 mean of £5.3m, although this figure can be deceptive as it is strongly influenced by ‘outlying’ large donations. However, the median value (the middle value when all are placed in ascending order) is arguably the more useful indicator of the average donation, and this increased to a record £2.3m.

The mean has recovered from an all-time low in 2010/11, while the mode has remained virtually static at £1m because of the high number of first-time million pound donors, who will then go on to make larger donations in future years.

The median donation also tends to be fairly static in the UK, but was lifted to a record high in 2012 due to a larger number of big donations.



in 2012


in 2010/11



in 2012


in 2010/11



in 2012


in 2010/11

Value of Million Pound Donations

Last year, more than half of all million pound gifts (56%) were worth £2m or more, with some 17% of all gifts worth over £10m, including one £100m donation.

As has been the case with nine-figure donations in previous years, this biggest donation was ‘banked’ in a private charitable foundation and will be distributed over time, rather than given immediately to front-line charities.

This trend towards larger donations means donors are either feeling wealthier or are giving a greater proportion of their wealth, and also may be explained by increased investment in major donor fundraising (which means there are more ‘asks’ for larger amounts).


Source of Million Pound Donations

In this first multi-national study of seven-figure donations, a methodological change has been made that affects our findings on the source of million pound donations.

From this year on, all donations made by charitable trusts or foundations are categorised as ‘foundations’, whereas in previous editions those made by ‘personal foundations’ (where the founding donor is still alive to direct grant-making) were counted together with individual million pound donations. For this reason, in 2012 we find that foundations are giving both the largest number and the largest share of the value of gifts.

According to our study, 22% of the million pound donations were made by individuals, collectively accounting for 32% of the total value. However, it is important to also highlight that individuals are probably responsible for decisions behind a larger share of these donations, through their own personal foundations where they retain a direct influence on the flow of grants. 




62% of total value in 2012





32% of total value in 2012





6% of total value in 2012

Foundations, which now include both personal and professional foundations, were responsible for 71% of the number of million pound donations, although these accounted for 62% of the total sum donated.

Gifts from corporations (including corporate foundations) dipped slightly and account for just 7% of the number of million pound donations in 2012 and 6% of the total value. This is in line with recent data produced by the Directory of Social Change which found corporate giving in the UK has dropped. 

In 2012, 98 unique donors gave gifts worth a million pounds or more. The vast majority (86%) of donors gave a single gift of this size. Fourteen donors, however, gave multiple gifts of £1m or more. 

These findings are in line with previous years; most donors have a particular passion or strong relationship with one charity and make smaller gifts to the other causes they support. Most multiple million-pound donors are institutions rather than individuals: the Wellcome Trust was the most prolific, making 37 separate gifts worth £1m or more in 2012.

Location of Million Pound Donations

Collecting accurate data on the geographic location of million pound donors is far from straightforward.

Not surprisingly, many wealthy individuals have more than one residence, while some institutional donors have more than one office. To clarify this, we have sought to establish the primary residential address for each donor. In doing so, we have found that London maintains its status as the seat of UK philanthropy, in keeping with the city being the centre for wealth in the UK. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of all 2012 donations worth £1m or more came from people or organisations based in London. The number of overseas donors has returned to the same level as in 2009/10.



59% London

3% South East

0.5% South West

0.07% North East

2% North West

1% East Midlands

2% Scotland

21% Overseas

12% Unknown

In 2012, the largest number of million pound gifts went to charities located in London (38%), followed by charities outside of the UK (18%), and in the South East (9%). Charities in other regions of the UK each received 10% or less of the total number of million pound donations. 




42% London

16% South East

2% South West

2% North East

3% North West

3% East Midlands

7% Scotland

15% Overseas

2% Unknown

1% West Midlands

2% Yorkshire & the Humber

5% East Of England

0.5% Wales

It’s not surprising that London, with its concentration of charity offices, accounts for the largest share of donations as well as the largest share of the value of gifts in 2012. However, there are many London-based national charities with a presence around the country, and indeed some have most of their beneficiaries overseas.

Recipients of Million Pound Donations

A total of 156 organisations were recipients of million pound donations in 2012 [1] – fewer than the 191 recipients in 2010/11, but in line with the trend for previous years.

The vast majority of these organisations received only one donation worth £1m or more (139 charities, or 89% of all organisations).

The two recipient organisations receiving four gifts each, as well as the three organisations receiving three gifts each, were all higher education institutions.  This is in keeping with a key finding in previous reports – only a small group of organisations, notably universities, receive more than one such million pound gift in any given year. 


total recipients

in 2012

[1] These numbers exclude 17 cases in which a recipient charity could not be identified.

Distribution of Million Pound Donations

For the first time, 2012 saw higher education replace charitable trusts and foundations as the most popular destination for million pound donations.

One in four donations (24%) was given to this cause area, accounting for 42% of the total value of all million pound donations made in 2012. Indeed, six of the ten biggest donations were given to universities, all of which were worth £30m or more.

Foundations, which have been the most popular destination in all previous years, were the second most popular destinations for million pound donations in 2012, receiving 20% of the total value of gifts. However, these transactions are still the largest, averaging nearly £14m and including three of the four biggest donations, all worth £60m or more.

The popularity of giving to higher education is probably due to at least two key factors. First, major donors view universities as credible institutions – in terms of their permanence, scale and governance – able to absorb and spend large sums on a wide range of important activities: from scholarships for financially disadvantaged students to cutting-edge research. The second key factor has been the government’s matched funding programme that ran from 2008 to 2011. It will be interesting to see if enthusiasm for giving to this cause is maintained once this incentive is removed.





197 gifts of £1m+

(£1.241bn in 2010/11)


Higher Education


47 gifts of £1m+

(£405m in 2010/11)




20 gifts of £1m+

(£494m in 2010/11)


Overseas [1]


39 gifts of £1m+

(£17m in 2010/11)


Arts, Culture & Humanities


20 gifts of £1m+

(£109m in 2010/11)




12 gifts of £1m+

(£38m in 2010/11)


Public & Societal Benefit


18 gifts of £1m+

(£17.5m in 2010/11)




20 gifts of £1m+

(0 in 2010/11)


Human Services


10 gifts of £1m+

(£18m in 2010/11)




6 gifts of £1m+

(£23m in 2010/11)




3 gifts of £1m+

(£101m in 2010/11)




1 gift of £1m+

(£4m in 2010/11)




1 gift of £1m+

(0 in 2010/11)




0 gifts of £1m+

(£14.5m in 2010/11)

[1] ‘Overseas’ refers to charities headquartered outside of the UK, regardless of the purpose of the gift eg, donations to schools and hospitals in North America. Previously this subsector referred to charitable activities outside of the UK other than those classified as international development.

[2] 'International' refers to funding for international development, which is in contrast to the other regions in the report, where it simply refers to charities based in the region which operate mainly outside that region.