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Mega-Gift Donors Focusing on Higher Education

(Jan. 7, 2008) Higher education receives nearly half of all major and mega-gifts, according to new research by the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish and Community Research (IJCR).

Mega-Gifts in American Philanthropy: Giving Patterns 2001-2003 examined more than 8,000 gifts of $1 million or more made to 4,000 charitable organizations, the largest sample ever collected of major gifts. In the study, major gifts were defined as $1 million or more and mega-gifts were categorized as $10 million or more.

According to the research, higher education received 37 percent of all major gifts and 44 percent of all major gift dollars. Health/medical causes accounted for 11 percent of all major gifts and arts/culture received 10 percent of major gifts. In contrast, religion, international and federated charitable appeals all received just 3 percent of major gifts examined in the study.

Mega-Gifts Even More Focused

The disparity is even greater for mega-gifts ($10 million or higher), with higher education accounting for 46 percent of the gifts and 47 percent of total dollars. Health/medical and arts/culture were again second and third, receiving 14 and 10 percent of mega-gifts, respectively. Again, the same types of causes received the fewest mega-gifts: international (3 percent), religion (2 percent) and federated charitable appeals (2 percent).

“Mega-gifts are very concentrated in a few types of organizations,” said Gary A. Tobin, president of IJCR, in a press release about the study. “Religious organizations, human services for the needy and umbrella campaigns like the United Way are the big losers in attracting the largest gifts. Colleges and universities are the biggest winners.”

While the study concludes that “minimal risk-taking in mega-giving reigns in practice, even if mega-givers often want to be ‘thinking outside the box,’” it also asserts that other subsectors of the charitable sector have some reason for optimism. Mega-givers often tend to follow each other’s lead, so one or two high-profile donors can cause significant changes in mega-giving (e.g., Bill and Melinda Gates focusing on international development and disease control). Given the large-dollar amounts involved, even a slight change in mega-giving patterns can have a significant impact on giving to different causes and subsectors. However, it does take time for these mega-giving alternatives to develop, according to the study.

Source and Geography

The study also found that about 55 percent of all major-gift dollars came from private foundations, with 28 percent from individuals, 8 percent from corporations and the remainder from community foundations, donor-advised funds, anonymous gifts and miscellaneous sources.

New York was the largest recipient of major gifts (14 percent) and major-gift dollars (15 percent) donated to organizations in the United States, followed by California and Washington, D.C.

About the Study

The full report about the research, including 14 detailed charts, can be obtained free of charge in PDF format at the IJCR website. The IJCR has indicated it plans to release additional major/mega-gift studies every two years.

The Institute for Jewish & Community Research analyzes a broad range of issues, including racial and religious identity, philanthropy and higher education. The Institute is an independent, non-partisan think tank, and provides innovative research and pragmatic policy analyses to Jewish and other communities around the world.

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