Chasing Big Donations? Think Local

About half of million-dollar-plus donations come from in-state donors

Charities chasing big-money donations might do well to think locally.

Of gifts to nonprofits of at least $1 million, 47% of the donations and 52% of the dollar value came from donors in the same state from 2000 to 2011, according to a study sponsored by CCS, a global fundraising, consulting and management firm. Sixty percent of such gifts came from donors in the same geographic region.

American individuals and foundations were the primary donors of million-dollar-plus gifts to charity, according to the study, which was conducted by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

“The opportunity to strengthen one’s community can be highly attractive to potential donors,” Robert Kissane, president of CCS, said in a statement. “Nonprofit organizations that effectively communicate potential impact and seek out the right local donors may experience transformational gifts.”

Individuals gave about a third of publicly announced gifts of $1 million or more. Add in bequests, and individuals contributed 40% of all such gifts and 65% of the total dollar amount.

Foundations made 43% of million-dollar-plus gifts, which accounted for 25% of the total dollar value.

The study analyzed data from the philanthropy school’s Million Dollar List database of publicly reported charitable gifts of $1 million or more to 12 different types of U.S. charities.

The study found that a small but growing number of million-dollar gifts were coming from donors outside the U.S.

Foundations and higher-education institutions each received about a third of total dollar value of gifts at this level. Other types of organizations evenly split the remaining dollars, with none of the latter receiving more than 10% of publicly announced million-dollar-plus gifts.

These were arts, culture and humanities organizations, environmental groups and international organizations.

Million-dollar-plus gifts fluctuated dramatically in both number and dollar amount during the 12-year study period. Giving at this level to most types of organizations dropped from 2001 to 2003 and again from 2008 to 2010, with some pickup in 2011.

Donations to arts, culture and humanities organizations and environmental groups were most sensitive to economic fluctuations, whereas health and human services groups were least sensitive to shifts in the economy.

High-dollar gifts from individuals were more affected by economic changes than were those from foundations and corporations.

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