Philanthropic Research Institute

PRI Research Process

PRI focuses on the money given to recipients, whether from foundations or personally. PRI is the only organization that performs this type of research. Two years in the making, the research process includes analyzing terabytes of data via a dozen data bases, a multitude of consultants, information from Wall Street firms, and-through in-person meetings and calls-studying the individuals, family members, foundation leaders, and recipients of giving. This type of research has never been done before. PRI spends almost $500k a year to create this research and is funded partially by its conferences and events, and mostly by its founders who are passionate about its cause.

Research Methodology

Philanthropic Research Institute (PRI) is the only organization of its kind that identifies and researches the world's biggest individual philanthropic givers. PRI studies the givers' best practices, and focuses on the individuals' actual, paid donations to recipients, whether from their foundations or personally.

Other research of this type focuses on giving numbers that mostly include pledges, which oftentimes are not fulfilled (witness the record-setting $250 million pledge to Centre College that was withdrawn in September), and pledges can be stretched out over many years (in some cases decades). Unlike other research, PRI's studies do not include donations given to family foundations since only 5% or so is typically given to recipients from foundations in a given year. PRI studies only the donations that really count--the amount that recipients actually receive.

In some cases, a family foundation may be a grantor and a recipient: Warren Buffett gets credit for his $1.52bb donation to the Gates Foundation, which gives away his money by the end of the following year. On the other hand, when Bill and Melinda contribute to their foundation we do not count it until the money leaves the foundation; Warren's money is deducted from this total.

Only donations made while the giver is alive are counted; George Mitchell gave about $40 million away in 2012 and passed away in July 2013 at the age of 79 - he earned spot number 43. Albert Ueltschi, a generous giver and signee to the Giving Pledge, died in 2012, but is ineligible for our ranking.

For this list of top-50 philanthropic givers, PRI scoured dozens of data bases, foundation filings, and PRI's own proprietary programs to compile a list of over 50,000 of the biggest individual donations to recipients for the year 2012 by U.S. residents. PRI then culled this data down to the top - 1,200 individual givers. Adding to this number, PRI studied significant giving and pledges by individuals over the past decade (approx: 200) that did not appear on the 1,200 list, as well as members of Forbes' 400 wealthiest individuals who did not appear on the 1,200 list (approx 120), plus around 100 nominations; this added an additional 420 names to be considered for further review. PRI then closely examined these roughly 1,600 individuals, and narrowed the count to about 500. PRI's ranking does not include anonymous giving; however, its research oftentimes reveals identities but in the spirit of giving and respect for the givers, PRI does not include these very few individuals, which may account for a single spot on the ranking.

Thus began the comprehensive due diligence and verification process for each of these 500 individuals. This included conversations with the individuals or representatives, members of their foundations, family members, and recipients of the donations. In-kind donations, such as stock or art, are valued on the date they are given; if a range is provided, PRI includes the low end of the range. Because PRI only counts actual donations given to recipients, only the amount of a pledge that is actually paid in a given year is counted, even if the pledge was made a decade earlier. Since many pledges are conditional, or based on milestones such as matching grants, if no other information is provided these payments may be estimated by PRI.

Lifetime giving figures are largely self-reported, and verified as best as possible by the PRI team.

Research Disclosure

To remain completely independent and objective, PRI does not receive compensation from individual givers, family members, members of foundations, recipients, etc. for its research or ranking purposes. Likewise, PRI does not receive compensation in exchange for providing rankings that are published by the media. PRI is a sustainable philanthropic enterprise that derives its funding solely from its founders and partially from its philanthropic best-practices conferences and events.