Universities receive the lion's share of one-off donations above $1 million (€744,000), according to a recently published study of donor trends in six regions around the world.
The Million Dollar Donors Report 2013, published by UK-based private bank Coutts, found that of the 2 billion known donations over $1 million in the six areas surveyed, 37% were made to higher education institutions.
The study tracked more than $19 billion-worth of donations from 1,249 donors from across the USA, UK, Russia, China, Hong Kong and the GCC.
The report said universities were a popular choice for philanthropists because they were already multi-million dollar organisations, and had the administrative ability to handle seven-figure donations.
It said many high net worth individuals chose to donate to their alma maters, and added: "There is a huge variety of activities that major donors can support, from cutting-edge scientific research and the building of new facilities to the provision of scholarships."
Foundations were the second most popular recipients of donations upwards of $1 million, as they enabled philanthropists to make a large endowment, which would then be distributed among a wide number of causes on their behalf.
It also found across the board there was a move towards greater institutionalisation and professionalism, with many philanthropists setting up foundations or making long-term endowments to particular causes.
On the six regions, the US gave the most million dollar donations, which totalled $14 billion, followed by the UK at $1.4 billion, China at $1.2 billion, Hong Kong at $877 million, the Middle East at $727 million and Russia at $239 million.
However, the report said philanthropy was at very different stages in each region. The number of donations in the US for example, have fallen to their lowest level since the financial crisis, down to 1,408 compared to 2,356 in 2008.
On the other hand, philanthropy in Russia was still in the early stages of development, as it played almost no part in Russian society until the end of communism in 1991, according to the report, and the first private foundation – the Vladimir Potanin foundation – wasn't opened until 1999.
The report said it was difficult to monitor donations in places like the GCC, where the culture dictates philanthropists should be discreet about their giving.
In general, donors preferred to give in their home countries, with overseas donations only accounting for 5.6% of the total, but the GCC was in sharp contrast to this, where 71% of donations went abroad. According to the research, this indicates donors perceive there are greater needs in Arab countries outside of the GCC.
The US segment of the study has been published annually since 2000, and the UK version since 2008, but Coutts says it is the first time this type of data from the other four regions has been published.