Coutts Million Dollar Donors Report: A Graham-Pelton Review

The annual Coutts Million Dollar Donors Report came out last week and, as usual, it provides fascinating reading.  The good news is that, despite a slight drop from last year’s figures, the report demonstrates that major philanthropy remains strong across the world, and is increasing substantially in the UK, China, and Hong Kong.

The headline facts can be found below, and the full report can be found here.


Across the 7 regions studied (UK, USA, Middle East, Russia, China, Hong Kong, Singapore):

  • 1,831 donations of $24.5bn across 8 regions in 2014
  • Individuals gave the most, with high-net worth donors giving 59% of the $24.5 billion donated across all regions. Foundations accounted or 25% of the donations and Corporations 16%.
  • Higher Education (HE) received the most – 798 gifts totalling $7.58bn
  • Top 5 recipients: HE, Foundations, Overseas, Health, Arts and Humanities
  • Education (outside of Universities) received 79 gifts totalling $591m
  • Amount given to Foundations grew by $2bn to $6.77bn, the report noting that individuals and companies are becoming more planned and structured with their giving, establishing foundations that will allocate funding over time in a strategic way
  • HE and Health continue to secure the ‘mega gifts’ $10m+ globally


The UK:

In the UK, total giving rose by £200m to £1.56bn, largely skewed by an outstanding £105m corporate gift to establish the Bet 365 Foundation. However, other important trends were highlighted:

  • Giving is getting bigger! There are more £1m plus gifts than ever before the number of people in Britain giving £1m has doubled in 4 years (73 in 2011 to 150).
  • And it’s not all one-off ‘Gifts of a lifetime’ – a significant number of million-pound-plus donors are making several gifts of this size – in total, 150 donors made 298 donations of £1m or more.
  • Donors are spreading their giving around only 29 out of 243 organisations received more than one million-pound donation. Of these, 9 received 3 or more.
  • London is a donor hotspot 192 of the 298 gifts made were given by donors that are based in London (a total of 74 different donors).
  • But international donors remain important – as the £60m gift from the UAE to Great Ormond Street Hospital demonstrates.
  • Gifts are getting bigger – The average donation size in 2014 was 15% higher than the previous year. In total there were: 141 gifts up to £2m; 123 gifts between £2m to £9.9m; 34 gifts were eight figures!
  • And they are coming from new donors too – 33 new donors gave a gift of £1m+.
  • Individuals and corporations are increasing their giving – Whilst Trusts and Foundations account for 51% of the giving (a total of £790m, down £125m on 2014), giving from Corporations and individuals is growing fast. Corporations accounted for 23% of the total value (up from 10% between 2008–2011); Individuals gave 25% of the total value, £389m (£150m more than they gave in 2014).
  • Gifts to Charitable Trusts and Foundations overtook Higher Education – Foundations received £565m (86 gifts), highlighting the rise in philanthropists and organisations establishing their own Foundations.
  • After Foundations, Higher Education and Health were the biggest recipients of big gifts – Higher Education institutions remain strong having received £485m from 65 gifts; however, the Health sector overtook the International and Arts sectors, securing £125m from 28 gifts. This figure was buoyed by the exceptional gift of £60m to Great Ormond Street Hospital; however, in 2010/11 the sector recorded £38m, demonstrating the increasing focus and professionalism of UK Health fundraising.


What can we learn?

So, what can be taken from this?  A number of things stick out:

Firstly, we should be proud. Our ‘industry’ is successful and growing. Our institutions are investing in fundraising, professionalising their programmes, and realising the rewards.

Secondly, donors too are becoming more professional and structured. The report highlights that donors (individuals and corporates) are increasingly establishing their own Foundations with one off ‘mega gifts’ for later distribution to worthy causes in a long-term, systematic, and meaningful way.

And thirdly, (with my positive hat on) the opportunity for a much wider range of organisations to secure million-dollar-plus donations is increasing; as long as the correct systems, funding, and vision are in place.

Hopefully, the report provides some advice for both donors and charities regarding making and securing million-dollar-plus gifts. Together with the case studies this advice is a must-read. I’ve summarised the key points below but they can read in full here:

Advice for potential donors:

  • Become engaged, don’t just write cheques use your skills as well as your money.
  • Think strategically as well as emotionally do your research, speak to others that are involved, but do give to areas that you are passionate about.
  • Be structured and professional set objectives, commit for the long haul, and use professionals.


Advice for charities:

  • Dream big about what you would do with a million-pound investment, and then have a clear and easy way to communicate this strategic vision.
  • Think strategically are you able to demonstrate how your fundraising projects advance your institution/cause?
  • Invest in fundraising it has a proven long-term pay-off.
  • Build honest, open relationships that seek to involve donors beyond the fundraising team.


This is really great advice and I think presents fundraising teams with some key questions to reflect on:

  • Have you wealth-screened and researched your top prospects?
  • Are you ready, if asked, to say what £1m would do for your cause? If not, then go do it today!
  • Are you aiming your asks high enough?
  • Are you presenting your projects as strategic, with clear milestones and deliverables that will appeal to today’s leading philanthropists?
  • Do you enable your lead prospects to get close to the projects, to touch and feel them, so that they can become engaged emotionally as well as financially?
  • How do you broaden your major gift relationships, and invite your leadership, project leads, and wider staff to play a role?
  • What role is there for your leading donors to advocate on your behalf, to lead from the front, and to bring others on board?
  • Do you have sufficient/appropriate resources to secure million-dollar-plus gifts? If not, what resource do you need? How can you present the case to your leadership?


As the Report demonstrates, these are exciting times. Philanthropy is, almost for the very first time, becoming a global phenomenon and the opportunities to secure transformational gifts are expanding. Good luck!

-Matt Mangan, Senior Consultant

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