By Marcus Leach

The annual Coutts Million Pound Donor Report, released today (Monday), identifies 174 separate ‘million pound or more donations’ made by individuals, trusts and corporations in the UK during 2009/10, worth a total £1.3 billion.

The annual report tracks size, scale and recipients of donations worth £1 million or more from individuals, trusts and corporations in the UK.

While the level of giving is down 15% from the previous year reflecting a fall in the number of ‘million pound donations’ from 201 in 2008/09 to 174 in 2009/10, high-net-worth individuals remain the most significant source of these biggest gifts, contributing £782m, or 60% of the total value of £1.3 billion.

The report, in association with the Centre for Philanthropy, Humanitarianism and Social Justice at the University of Kent is illustrated with a number of case studies of donors and recipients, who discuss their experience.

As seen in previous years, the most frequent size of donation is exactly £1 million, indicating that ‘giving a million’ has both economic and psychological significance for donors, and is the size of gift that establishes a donor amongst the ‘top rank’ of UK philanthropists.

In 2009/10, 10% of these biggest gifts were larger than £10 million, and as in previous years, these ‘mega-gifts’ were all deposited into charitable trusts and foundations rather than given directly as donations to operating charities.

154 organisations, (including trusts and foundations) were identified as recipients of the large scale donations, though some beneficiaries - primarily well-known universities and London based arts & culture organisations - received multiple ‘million pound donations’.

”The results of this study demonstrate the significant contribution that individuals are making to charitable causes at the highest level," Maya Prabhu, Head of UK Philanthropy at Coutts said.

"In just four years, we have been able to track 757 gifts, totally £6 billion. While it is clearly important to take steps to encourage more people to start giving, and to encourage those who can to give more, it is also important to pause and celebrate the contribution of individuals and trusts at the most significant levels of philanthropy.

“The fall in overall donations witnessed in this report reflects the undulations that we would expect to see across levels of giving in a longitudinal study. Not only is it consistent with figures emerging from other studies for UK charitable giving, it mirrors the general sentiment in the economy and financial markets in the year 2009/10, the impact of a fall in wealth creation events and of philanthropists increasing the length of their decision making process by becoming more strategic.”

Beth Breeze, Author of the Report, said it was great to see the scale of donations.

"Before we started this annual study of million pound donations, there was no clear understanding of the scale, role and significance of the largest philanthropic acts in the UK," she said.

"That was an important gap in our knowledge that needed filling, because we need a proper understanding of current levels of support in order to make robust plans for developing this much-needed source of income in the future. The data and analysis provided by the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent is helping charities, fundraisers and policymakers to build a decent knowledge base about major giving and gain a better understanding of the main trends in contemporary UK philanthropy, which should help the UK to develop a stronger culture of philanthropy."

Key findings of the report include:

- In the four years that the data has been tracked, the number and value of donations has gone up and down. Such natural undulations are considered typical in a small dataset, and the latest dip reflects that found in the US where the Million Dollar Donor list saw a fall in value of 25% over a similar time period.

- Higher Education remains the most popular destination for these largest gifts, but International Development has seen the biggest increase in popularity amongst million pound donors, and was the most favoured cause amongst individuals with an increase up from £53 million in 2009/09 to £143 million in 2009/10; and this cause accounted for over a fifth of all ‘spent’ donations.

- The results highlight the impact of the match funding scheme towards higher education, which started in 2009 and ends this year, incentivising donors towards UK universities, enabling gearing of a £400,000 gift into £1 million after tax relief. Equally, arts & culture may experience a similar uplift in donations as a result of the government’s £55 million matched funding scheme that launched in July 2011.

- Again as in previous years, the most frequent size of donation is exactly £1 million, many (44%) are worth between £1-£1.9 million, and over half (54%) are worth £2 million or more.

- As witnessed in previous years, one individual donor made a 9-figure donation. The existence of a different person each year making a once-in-a-lifetime transfer of funds from private wealth into a charitable foundation is a key - but unpredictable - element of this data, such that a ‘peak’ or a ‘trough’ may reflect nothing more than the size of this one mega-gift.

- 10% of donations are worth £10 million or more. As in all previous years, all such 8-figure donations are ‘banked’ into charitable trusts and foundations, rather than given directly to be spent by operating charities.

- Overall, around half the total value of million pound donations (48%) was ‘banked’ in foundations rather than ‘spent’ on charitable activity in 2009/10. This represents an increase from the 36% that was ‘banked’ in 2008/09, meaning more funds are available for future distribution but less money has been received by operational charities.

- 154 organisations were recipients of million pound donations and, as usual, most (140) received only one gift of this size. Organisations receiving multiple donations of this size are primarily well-known universities and Arts & Cultural institutions in London.

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