Million dollar gifts account for a significant share of charitable dollars contributed. Stakeholders are focusing an increasing amount of attention on the potential for large gifts to solve problems and address urgent needs in society. Despite significant attention, there have been very few studies that examine million dollar gifts, due in part to data limitations. Notable examples of previous literature specifically studying giving at this level include The Coutts Million Pound Donors Report (2009) and The 2010 Bank of America Merrill Lynch Study of Nigh Net Worth Philanthropy, both of which have been instrumental in framing the study of the Million Dollar List (MDL). Many other studies have examined the giving habits of the wealthy as they relate to contributions to higher education, including the oft-cited Trends in Philanthropy (1941) by J. Harold Goldthorpe, but knowledge about general trends in million dollar-plus giving is extremely limited.
The Million Dollar List is a unique dataset providing an in-depth view of high net worth giving. This resource consists of data about gifts of $1 million or more announced in the media and available through the tax records of nonprofit organizations. The MDL has been compiled by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University (the Center) since 2000. The purpose of the project is to enhance knowledge about giving at scale and to make that knowledge transparent and widely accessible. Information provided in the dataset has the potential to improve the understanding of philanthropy while serving as an informative and inspirational tool for donors, nonprofits, researchers, and the public.
Initial research into the MDL has produced a number of noteworthy findings. We see that the million dollar giving of individuals (primarily men, women, couples, and families) tends to be greater on a gift-to-gift basis than that of foundations and corporations. In fact, the average gift value for individuals is nearly five times higher than that of the other types of donors. We also find that gifts to higher education institutions dominate the number of gifts received, but these gifts tend to be relatively small as a fraction of total dollars given on the MDL. There are significant differences in per capita giving and receiving by state, due in large part to the geographic dispersion of large foundations and nonprofits. There are numerous opportunities for future studies using the MDL data, including detailed investigations into donor networks, gift dispersion based on source of donor wealth, and a study of institutional characteristics that attract million dollar plus gifts.