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Million Pound Donors Report 2017

Read our unique report which has been celebrating and inspiring philanthropy for a decade now

6 min read


Welcome to the 10 year anniversary Million Pound Donors Report

The Coutts Million Pound Donors Report offers unique insight into key trends in major philanthropy over the past 10 years. Nearly £15bn has been given in total by individuals, foundations or corporations. And there is no doubt that major philanthropy has been on the rise since the financial crisis, with 2016 seeing the highest amount given since the report began a decade ago. We would like to thank the University of Kent for collating the data for the report over the years.

Equally insightful are the interviews we have conducted over the years with philanthropists from around the world, which can be seen in this report and our previous Million Dollar Donors Report. While every philanthropist is unique, these interviews illustrate that philanthropy is driven by people’s passions, values, concerns or visions for a better society.

This report is designed to celebrate and inspire philanthropy at any scale. Whether you are a donor, trustee or volunteer, we hope that it provides some valuable food for thought.

Philanthropy is deeply engrained in the DNA of Coutts. Our passion for it began with Angela Burdett-Coutts – granddaughter of Thomas Coutts who inherited a share of the business in the 1800s. She became one of the most progressive and generous Victorian philanthropists.

Charitable giving also features in the lives of our clients, many of whom benefit from the support of our award-winning philanthropy experts, including strategic philanthropy advice from the Coutts Institute and the services provided by our Trust and Charity Investment teams. 

If you’d like to hear more about how we can help you and your family make a real difference to the causes or communities you care about, contact your private banker.


Lenka Setkova

Executive Director, Coutts Institute




    Nearly £15bn given to charitable causes over the past 10 years

    The total value of donations of £1m or more rose from £1.37bn in 2006/07 to a record high of £1.83bn in 2016 – with this most recent year representing 12.3% of the 10-year total.

    However, the total annual value has fluctuated over the decade, with its lowest dip in 2010/2011 (£1,23bn). The dip in the total value between 2008/09 and 2012 suggests a correlation with the financial crisis, with major donors perhaps being less inclined or able to give at this scale during that time.

    75% of the largest single donations recorded were in the first five years.


    The largest single donation given was £470m, from Albert Gubay to the Albert Gubay Charitable Foundation in 2010. Albert passed away in January 2016 leaving a charitable foundation worth around £700 million. This supports causes connected to the Catholic Church as well as a range of other charitable causes.

    Other ‘mega-gifts’ (those totalling £100m or more) that have been given over the years have predominantly been gifts to charitable foundations from private individuals. These include donations from:

    This demonstrates the importance of charitable foundations as vehicles through which major donors are able to ‘bank’ significant gifts to distribute over time as their philanthropy strategy develops. This mirrors what we have seen at Coutts as the number of clients wishing to establish foundations, with support from our Trust team, has increased steadily.


  • Number


    Number of donations up by 2/3 in 10 years

    The number of donations rose from 189 in 2006/07 to 310 in 2016 – an increase of 64%.

    The number of donations of £1m or more has risen steadily over the past 10 years, despite a dip in 2009/10 after the financial crisis.

    While three-quarters of the largest donations recorded came in the first five years, the second half of the decade saw 50% more donations overall, although these were lower in average value.

    This increase in the number of donations can be partly explained by the rise in the number of unique donors, from 89 in 2006/2007 to 139 in 2016 (peaking at 156 in 2014).



    What is driving this boom in philanthropy?

    The growth in the number of donations over the past five years suggests we are experiencing a boom time for major philanthropy. The more donations there are from different individuals, foundations or corporations, the more vibrant and diverse the sector becomes, with more charities benefitting.

    In Coutts’ experience, philanthropy is deeply personal and driven by people’s passions, values or interests. However, there are a number of factors that are likely to have inspired and supported the growth in philanthropy in recent years, including:

    • The rise in the availability of strategic philanthropy advice such as that given by the Coutts Institute – evidence shows people are more likely to give if they have access to good advice
    • Growing media attention on philanthropy
    • High-profile philanthropists pledging to gift most of their wealth to charity, including signatories of the Giving Pledge
    • Charitable organisations doing more to develop effective major donor fundraising strategies
    • Governments and other sources offering to match donations, which has particularly been the case for higher education and the arts


  • Average Size

    Average Size

    The Magic Million







    While mega-gifts (donations of £100m or more) tend to attract the headlines, £1m is the most common donation. In all 10 editions of the Million Pound Donors Report, the mode (the most commonly appearing value) is exactly £1m, with these gifts representing 15% of the total number of donations.

    Giving exactly one million appears to have a cultural resonance, such that it is an economically and psychologically significant figure to both donors and recipients. The biggest gifts in other countries are also typically one million of the local currency – be that US dollars, euros or Canadian dollars.

    At the other end of the spectrum, however, donations of £10m or more account for 13% of the number of donations but 62.5% of the total value (£9.29bn), meaning that a small number of large donations make up the bulk of the total value.


  • Source


    Foundations give most while corporate donations surge


    Foundations are the largest source of donations of £1m or more over the 10-year period, totalling 64% of the total number (1,558) and over half of the total value (£7.67bn). This is largely because of donations given by major foundations such as the Wellcome Trust, the Gatsby Charitable Trust and Atlantic Philanthropies . Interestingly, the latter two foundations have chosen to spend down their assets and close, with Atlantic Philanthropies completing its grant-making at the end of 2016 and planning to close its doors completely in 2020.

    Of the foundations based in the UK, approximately half are family foundations where more than one member of the family is involved in the giving.



    The total value of corporate donations has risen from just under £50m in 2006/7 to over £500m in 2016 – an increase of over 900%.

    The total value of donations from foundations has increased most significantly in the past five years, topping the £1bn mark for the first time in 2016.



    The total number of donations of £1m or more from corporations has risen by 282% (from 17 in 2006/7 to 65 in 2016).

    The total number of donations from foundations has risen significantly in the past five years, from 145 in 2012 to 202 in 2016, peaking in 2015 at 222.


    The trends in sources of giving

    Individuals come second to foundations in both the number and total value of donations given over the past 10 years

    However, corporations have recently overtaken individuals in terms of the amount given year-on-year. This rise seems to be the result of sizeable donations by a small number of corporations.

    The UK corporate sector has not had a strong tradition of making large charitable donations. But at Coutts we have found that family businesses – where the people involved are both owners and shareholders – often work differently and feature strongly amongst the most philanthropic companies. Some companies take the view that philanthropy can help to create a competitive advantage by enhancing reputation and attracting the best employees, especially amongst millennials who may prefer to work for ‘good’ employers (in the widest sense of the term).


  • Location Of Donor

    Location Of Donor

    London dominates but north east and overseas donations rise


    Donations from within the UK

    London is the hub of UK philanthropy. Most donations of £1m or more over the 10-year period originate from London, and the number has risen consistently. The total value of donations from the capital dipped after the financial crisis, but it has since been on the rise.

    Outside of London, the most consistent location of major donors both in number and value is the South East of England, while the biggest and most consistent rise in the total value of donations has been in the North East.


    Donations from outside the UK

    The number of donations to UK-based organisations from donors located outside the UK has increased 10-fold since the report began – from 3 to 30.

    The total value of these donations has increased by over 2,500% - from £9.8m in 2006/7 to £263.5m in 2016.


    What has driven the increase in donations from outside the UK?

    Firstly, globalisation and the cosmopolitan lifestyle of many of the biggest philanthropists. As our interview with Sir Paul Ruddock illustrates, major donors often hold deep personal connections to more than one country, resulting in significant support for charitable institutions across the world.

    Secondly, the global appeal of some UK charities, notably universities and hospitals, whose brand and reputation are not confined within national boundaries.

  • Recipients


    62% increase in the number of organisations receiving a £1m donation


    In total, 913 different organisations received at least one ‘million-pound donation’ during the 10 years.

    The number of organisations benefiting from giving at this level has increased by 62%, from 152 in 2006/07 to 246 in 2016.

    Interestingly, the number of donations has moved in proportion to the number of donors – with both increasing significantly since 2013 in particular. This tells a positive story about the vibrancy of the sector – with a larger pool of donors able and willing to give at this level and more diverse organisations benefitting from such gifts.


  • Distribution


    Foundations get highest value while universities get highest number


    Higher education and foundations have dominated for 10 years, receiving over two-thirds of the total value between them.

    Foundations were the top recipient by value over the 10-year period, with a total of £5.16bn (beating higher education by around £365.5m).

    However, higher education institutions received the highest number of donations of £1m or more (600), beating foundations by 133.

    Foundations were the primary recipient of donations from individuals, receiving almost half of these donations and 70% of their total value, further illustrating the importance of foundations as vehicles for major donations.

    What else does the data suggest?

    The number of donations to arts, culture and heritage has risen significantly in the past two years. The total value of donations supporting human services – which includes issues such as poverty, food aid, and children and young people services – has also risen since the financial crisis, coinciding with the UK government’s programme of austerity.

    Environmental organisations received only 1% of the total value of donations of £1m or more. However, a closer examination of what foundations go on to support suggests that environmental causes feature in smaller donations made by foundations, especially with onward donations to charities overseas. Nevertheless, the 1% figure raises questions about whether major philanthropy is adequately addressing issues such as the urgency of mitigating climate change.

    Major donors are clearly open to supporting organisations located overseas. 346 donations have been given to this sector, representing 9.1% of the total value, and the number of donations going overseas has risen from 16 in 2006/7 to 48 in 2016. The data suggests this rise is driven by two key factors. One is the international approach to philanthropy by major foundations such as the Wellcome Trust and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. The second is the appeal of many charitable and public institutions located outside of the UK – particularly universities and health-related research centres – to internationally-minded philanthropists.


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  • Disclaimer


    The information on this website is produced by Coutts Institute and does not constitute financial research nor does it specify Coutts products and services.

    You may use information on this website for your own personal reference, but the information herein may also be reproduced, stored, distributed, or transmitted to any other person or incorporated in any way into another document or other material, provided Coutts copyright and co-authorship in relation to such information are clearly recognised at all times.

    This website references civil society organisations, including private foundations, charitable organisations and social enterprises. Organisations noted on this website are not endorsed by Coutts and the content of this website does not constitute recommendations for funding or investment. Any risks associated with supporting or investing in organisations noted on this website are the individual’s own. Coutts does not receive a commission or payment in any form from any organisation noted on this website.


  • Acknowledgements


    Over the past 10 years the Coutts Million Pound Donors Report has been a collaborative initiative between Coutts and the Centre for Philanthropy, School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research at the University of Kent.

    We would like to thank our research partners at the University of Kent, Dr Beth Breeze and Dr Kayleigh Flaxman, who have led on the data collection and analysis.

    We are especially grateful to all the donors who have agreed to be profiled in the report and shared their candid insights and experiences of philanthropy.



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