A wizard of a £10m philanthropic gift

In today’s news we learn that Harry Potter author JK Rowling is giving £10 million to the University of Edinburgh to fund a new research clinic investigating Multiple Sclerosis (MS) as well as other degenerative neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and Motor Neurone Disease.

The clinic is to be named after her mother – The Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic – who died from complications relating to MS at the age of 45. Interestingly, JK Rowling herself turns 45 this year, proving yet again that our philanthropic choices are directly linked to our autobiographies. As our recent research on How Donors Choose Charities illustrates, it is donors’ personal experiences, rather than objective assessments of needs, that are the prime drivers of giving and philanthropy in contemporary UK society.

It’s also interesting that this donation has been given to a university rather than to one of the MS charities. Our annual study of charitable donations worth £1m or more, finds that Higher Education Institutions are by far and away the most popular destination for these largest of gifts. Universities receive around 40% of the total value of ‘million pound donations’, a far larger slice of the philanthropic pie than any other type of beneficiary: the arts and culture sector receives just under 30%, international aid and development receive around 13% and no other cause is on the receiving end of more than 10% of the total value of £1m+ gifts.

In the 2009 edition of the report, we quote Joanna Motion from CASE (Council for the Advancement and Support of Education) who explains why universities are so popular amongst the richest donors. She says, “donors see universities as the places where we have the best chance of  tackling the big challenges facing society… They are robust, here for the long haul and used to managing large and complex projects”.

It appears that universities have the edge on charities in attracting the biggest donations because donors have more faith that their money will be well managed, well spent and result in meaningful impact. And that’s a magic combination for any type of donor, not just Harry Potter’s creator.

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