How do they come up with the 2015 Philanthropy 400?

At it’s core, philanthropy is about promoting the common good and improving quality of life for all. Whether it’s an individual donating time, money, or resources or a foundation or corporation approving a large grant, the goal is the same: make the world a better place. All charities have the opportunity to make a difference, big and small.

Each year, The Chronicle takes a look at which charities raise the most public donations and compile them into a list called the Philanthropy 400. 2015 marks the 25th edition of this list.

While 227 groups from the 1991 debut list are making an appearance to this day, the top 10 has evolved, including for the first time in 2015 four donor-advised funds and a battle between Fidelity and United Way for the No. 1 spot. Over the past 25 years, The Chronicle has seen international groups surge, while private colleges slowly recede down the list, thanks in part to the financial crisis and “the new normal” of our market.

Want to understand exactly how this list is made and who it represents? Here’s a break down.

What counts?

Donations in the form of cash, stock, land, or in-kind gifts such as donated pharmaceuticals or food that come from private sources in a given fiscal year. Government grants are not included in this sum.

How do they get their data?

Data is collected through a survey sent to nearly 750 tax-exempt organizations as well as information from Form 990 informational tax filings filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

When 990 data is not available, other reports of fiscal activity can be used, such as publicly available annual reports and financial statements.

Are all donations included?

Private foundations and organizations based overseas are excluded from the list because the report is intended to show which nonprofits in the United States are most successful in soliciting donations from the public.

Nonprofits with affiliates are asked to provide consolidated figures that included private contributions raised by those affiliates. If an organizations affiliates do not file a consolidated Form 990 or provide data to The Chronicle, they can be excluded from that year’s rankings.

What about charities where solid figures aren’t available yet?

Some charities do rely on draft 990s or unaudited financial statements. Without these, The Chronicle sometimes looks to the previous years data instead.

What time period does the report cover?

Fiscal years vary, so the figures in the report do not always cover the same time period.

How much historical data is used?

In 2014, the report included 24 years of historical data collected via past surveys conducted by The Chronicle.

How is historical data used?

A qualified analyst matches data published in the rankings with updated data from Form 990 tax filings, charities’ audited financial reports, and the Council for Aid to Education’s Voluntary Support of Education surveys.

How does the report get data on colleges?

For private and public colleges and universities, The Chronicle uses data collected by the Council for Aid to Education for its annual Voluntary Support of Education survey. The figures obtained from the council differ slightly form those collected on Form 990 in that the council excludes pledged gifts. When financial data from the council is not available, they use data from the Form 990 or their survey.

Do they differentiate between college branches and systems?

In most cases, data on individual colleges is used, but the list includes fiscal data on both individual college branches and consolidated college systems. In cases where a system’s figures are used, the individual branches that make up the system are excluded in order to avoid counting private support twice.

How does the report get data on religious groups?

Because some religious organizations receive an exemption from filing a Form 990 with the IRS, they may not be included on the report. Religious organizations that do appear have shared their financial data with The Chronicle or filed a Form 990.


Collecting data on so many organization is tricky, but The Chronicle strives to include an many charities as possible that may be eligible for the Philanthropy 400.