“Million Dollar List” Promotes Transparency Through Publicly Accessible Data

Jacqueline Ackerman

(Jacqueline Ackerman is the project coordinator for the Million Dollar List at the Indiana University School of Philanthropy.)

The Million Dollar List is the largest free record of publicly reported charitable donations of $1 million or more made in the United States since 2000.

Million Dollar List

Via an interactive website, the Indiana University School of Philanthropy offers this information as a database available to the general public. Users can download the entire database or portions of it, customize searches for their particular interests, and find trends and statistics about giving at this level at www.milliondollarlist.org. The Million Dollar List provides gift-level philanthropic data, rather than overall information about how much a specific donor gives or a particular nonprofit receives.

On the Million Dollar List website, users can search for information by donor or recipient organization, type of donor or nonprofit, gift size, and date. The interactive website also maps gifts by state for both donors and recipients. The list is the most comprehensive database of its kind, and to date includes more than 68,000 gifts.

The Million Dollar List is useful to a variety of audiences:

Donors value transparency and are driving the trend, requiring more information of themselves, their foundations, and the nonprofits they benefit.

High net worth donors. The Million Dollar List provides high net worth donors and their advisors with a place to better understand and visualize current high-dollar giving and more strategically plan their own giving. They can see which organizations working on causes in which they are interested have received large gifts, and where gaps in funding may exist. The Million Dollar List can also help donors find where other donors are giving at this level, and identify possible opportunities for leveraging their giving or engaging in peer-to-peer learning. For example, a donor wishing to combat domestic sex trafficking used the Million Dollar List to identify other donors who give to organizations addressing this issue. Through the Million Dollar List, this donor was able to connect with others to determine the most effective way to give.

Nonprofits. The Million Dollar List can help nonprofit organizations understand who is giving high-dollar gifts to similar groups, and look at the big picture of giving to specific nonprofit subsectors. An environmental nonprofit in Colorado, for example, could find out which similar organizations donors are supporting at this level and might want to consider developing relationships or partnerships with those organizations to increase their collective impact.

General public and the media. Finally, the Million Dollar List provides a wealth of information about million-dollar-plus giving that is of interest to the general public. The huge amount of data in the Million Dollar List has inspired a number of research projects and forthcoming papers. Basic findings using data from 2000-2010 can be found here.

Perhaps the most significant benefit of the Million Dollar List is that it promotes transparency in philanthropy. Donors value transparency and are driving the trend, requiring more information of themselves, their foundations, and the nonprofits they benefit. About two-thirds of the gifts on the Million Dollar List are from foundations, providing a boost to transparency in giving by foundations of all types.

Donors have provided their own information to the Million Dollar List in order to help provide a clearer picture of patterns and trends in million dollar gifts. At the same time, the Million Dollar List’s transparency offers donors the opportunity to leverage and coordinate their giving in supporting particular organizations or causes.

I invite you to explore the Million Dollar List online to learn more and see how you can use this information.

-- Jacqueline Ackerman


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