Revealed: Where the wealthy give away their money

The vast majority of mega-gifts — gifts of $10 million or more — are concentrated in three areas: education, health, and arts/culture, according to a new study by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research of San Francisco.

Other areas that depend on major gifts, such as human services and the environment, receive very little funding, and gifts designated specifically for minorities are almost non-existent, according to the study.

“Mega-gifts are an important part of philanthropy. Donors provide billions of dollars annually to nonprofits via mega-gifts,” said Alexander Karp, co-author of the study. “The magnitude of the highest-end giving is such that major areas of society can be seriously influenced. However, the vast majority of mega-gifts are narrowly distributed, with some funding areas being virtually ignored.”

The study examined mega-gifts given between 1995 and 2000. During that time, a total of 502 mega-givers contributed a total of more than $29.3 billion.

“We continue to collect the data for 2001-2003, and even though the market has been down, there is still evidence of a continued flow of mega-gifts,” said Gary Tobin, lead author of the study.

The study indicated that there were specific patterns to mega-giving, and that those patterns were markedly different from other patterns of giving in the United States. In 2000, for example, religious organizations received by far the largest sum of overall philanthropic dollars (74 percent) from the broader public, but only one of the 182 mega-gifts from that year went to religion.

The study showed the top 10 endowed universities have more than $78 billion in endowments — more than the gross domestic product (GDP) of the 75 poorest nations combined. Only 42 of the world’s 200-plus countries have GDPs larger than the endowments of these 10 schools. Chile, Pakistan, the Czech Republic, and New Zealand, for example, fall below this mark.

Another finding is that bigger or more established organizations receive the most mega-gifts. Most of the gifts could be classified as “safe” or “risk averse,” the study’s authors says. “There were few unknown or smaller nonprofits on the giving list.”