Back in the early 2000s my team and I started a database of gifts of $1 million or more by individuals or family foundations to nonprofit organizations in Massachusetts.
A million-dollar donation was still fairly noteworthy 15 years ago, but in recent years the figure to hit for exceptional giving (and website PR announcements) has crept up to $10 or even $20 million for medium-to-large organizations.
A look through some of the websites of our Commonwealth’s largest institution tout these larger donations, but announcements of million-dollar gifts are harder and harder to find.
That may provide an opportunity for small-to-medium sized nonprofits in the Bay State that have previously thought million-dollar gifts were out of their reach. If donors with capacity at that level are identified, cultivated, inspired, and stewarded well, they may find smaller nonprofits provide them with a better opportunity to have real impact and receive an exceptional donor experience, including public displays of gratitude.
In fact, some smaller nonprofits in Massachusetts are already engaging donors at this level. In 2017, of the 7 reported million-dollar gifts and pledges, 4 of them went to small-to-mid sized organizations.
At the next tier, gifts between $1m and $2 million, the major players take over. Of the 11 donations in that category, only one gift did not go to Harvard, MIT, or a major Boston-based teaching hospital.
The domination of performance last year by the largest institutions continues from that point on at all levels with just a few exceptions.
LOCAL DONORS WERE THE MOST GENEROUS
Massachusetts gets a bad (and undeserved) rap for being the home of the stingy. In fact, in 2017 the vast majority – 29 of the 55 million-plus donations to nonprofits here – came from Bay Staters. More $20 million+ gifts came from inside our state than outside, too. And those numbers could be even higher, since 5 of the million-plus donors asked to remain anonymous.
The state with the next most generous donors to Massachusetts nonprofits was our close neighbor, New York, with a distant 4.
RETHINKING THE EDUCATION DESIGNATION BIAS
Of the 55 reported million-plus gifts to Massachusetts nonprofits totaling over $1.1 billion, colleges, universities, and schools accounted for 34 of them. Those gifts totaled $589,464,387, or about half of all giving at this level to all sectors.
There’s been a lot of grousing by some that giving to large educational institutions is a waste of donor money. I willingly admit that there’s probably a goodly amount of large-institution-lily-gilding, but the bottom line is that donors give where they want, and where they are inspired to give. And some of these educational institutions are creating inspired, safe, trustworthy, philanthropic investment opportunities for donors.
For example, the purpose of one gift to Harvard Law last year was to help prevent cruelty to farm animals. Another gift, to the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, went to provide baby supplies for new mothers, backpacks filled with school supplies to foster-care children in the Worcester area, and to buy new laundry machines for four local public schools.
Sure, those donations could have gone to smaller nonprofits doing each of those things separately. But consider this: when was the last time most folks went to 5 local shops instead of typing www.amazon.com? For better or worse, major donors are doing the exact same thing.
WHAT DO THESE MAJOR DONORS LOOK LIKE?
Besides being primarily local, the other commonality is that the majority work(ed) in finance. About half of the gifts and pledges were made by couples giving jointly. And the majority of all donors were residents of the US; only two reported gifts last year came from outside the country.
All in all, these generous donors gave more than $1.1 billion to nonprofits in our state last year. It’s exciting to follow and celebrate giving at this level to Massachusetts nonprofits, and to anticipate what 2018 will bring.
This list is comprised of individuals, closely-held family foundations, or DAFs making gifts, pledges, gifts-in-kind, and bequests of $1 million plus.
We will have definitely missed gifts. Some organizations do not publicize gifts at all; others only selectively publicize gifts over $1 million.
Our sources included the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Big Charitable Gifts database, newspaper reports, PR announcements, and gift lists published on Massachusetts-based nonprofit websites.
Two pledges of significant art collections to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts were included in these calculations. Based on press reports, we estimated each collection’s value (we believe) conservatively at $200 million.