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Number of million pound gifts drops but individuals still main source

Howard Lake | 12 December 2011 | News

According to the Coutts Million Pound Donor Report, UK charities received 174 separate donations of £1 million or more from individuals, trusts and corporations in the UK during 2009/10, worth a total £1.3 billion. Although this represents a drop of 15% on the 201 £1 million or more gifts in 2008/09, individuals still represent the main source of such gifts: in 2009/10, 60% of these gifts, worth £782 million, was given by individuals.

This is the fourth annual Coutts Million Pound Donor Report, published in association with the Centre for Philanthropy, Humanitarianism and Social Justice at the University of Kent. It tracks the quantity, size and destination of charitable donations worth £1 million or more in the UK. It also features case studies of donors and recipients to attempt to provide some insight into the motivation and process of giving such large gifts.

Most common gift is exactly £1 million

Over the past four years the report has tracked 757 gifts of £1 million or more, worth £6 billion to UK charities. As in previous years the most frequent size of donation in 2009/10 was exactly £1 million. The report’s author Dr Beth Breeze suggests that this indicates that this figure has both economic and psychological significance for donors, and could be the size of gift that establishes a donor amongst the top rank of UK philanthropists.


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Many gifts (44%) are worth between £1 million and £1.9 million, and 54% are worth £2 million or more.

One individual donor made a nine-figure donation. This has happened in previous years, although involving different donors. The report describes this as a “once-in-a-lifetime transfer of funds from private wealth into a charitable foundation”.

Trusts receive the biggest gifts

In 2009/10, 10% of the gifts analysed were larger than £10 million. However, as in previous years, none of these were donated directly to operating charities. They were all given to charitable trusts and foundations.

Indeed, 48% of all the million pound or more gifts were ‘banked’ in foundations and trusts for future grantmaking, up from 36% in 2008/09.

Who received the £1 million gifts?

The 174 million pound or more gifts were donated to 154 organisations, including trusts and foundations. Clearly some organisations, such as well-known universities and London-based arts and cultural organisations, received more than one of these gifts.

Higher education organisations received the largest proportion of gifts, although international development organisations have enjoyed the largest increase in the value of donations. It accounted for over a fifth of all ‘spent’ donations, increasing from £53 million in 2008-09 to £143 million in 2009/10.

Dr Breeze comments that these results no doubt reflect the impact of the matched funding scheme for higher education which ran from 2009 to 2011, which enabled some donors to UK universities to convert a £400,000 gift into a £1 million gift after tax relief.


Maya Prabhu, Head of UK Philanthropy at Coutts, was sanguine about the overall drop in giving, saying: ”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.”

Table 1: The data on number and value of donations in the past 4 years
Year No. of donations worth £1m+ Total value of donations worth £1m+
2006/07 193 £1.618 billion
2007/08 189 £1.405 billion
2008/09 201 £1.548 billion
2009/10 174 £1.312 billion
Total 757 £5.883 billion


Beth Breeze, Author of the Report, commented: “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. 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.”

Coutts’ support for the research stems from its philanthropy services to its clients. It offers specific knowledge and insights to help guide clients in creating an effective giving strategy, conducting market research, getting professional advice, evaluating projects and creating a portfolio of charitable interests. It runs a series of networking and educational events through the Coutts Forums for Philanthropy.