The world's rich have just got less charitable

The rich want to stay rich
The rich want to stay rich

The number of global million-dollar donations to charity shrunk in 2014 by close to $3 billion as U.S. giving dropped, and the number and total value of donations stubbornly stayed below pre-crisis levels, according to research.

Some 1,831 donations greater than $1 million across eight different regions were gifted in 2014 amounting to a $24.5 billion. This is down from the 1,995 donations totalling $26.3 billion in 2013, according to an annual report carried out by U.K. based private bank, Coutts.

Microsoft co-founder and Berkshire Hathaway board member Bill Gates, left, and Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett are shown prior to the annual shareholders meeting in Omaha, Neb.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The U.S. gives far more money away to charity than any other nation, with gifts totalling over $14 billion last year. But this was down quite sharply from the 2013 figure of almost $17 billon as the number of donations from charitable foundations fell by 13 percentage points. Donations in Russia, Singapore and the Middle East also declined.

"Major philanthropy plays an important role in strengthening social, cultural and economic development around the world. Whilst these numbers are lower than the previous year, overall it is evident that major philanthropy remains strong and in certain regions, including the U.K., China and Hong Kong where it has grown substantially," Lenka Setkova, executive director at Coutts Institute, said.

As in previous years, Warren Buffett was among the world's biggest donors, parting with $2.1 billion in 2014 as part of a $30 billion pledge made in 2006 to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Co-founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group Jack Ma gave $2.37 billion to establish a private charitable trust, which accounted for accounted for two-thirds of the entire value of million-dollar donations in China last year.

Ma, along with fellow Alibaba co-founder Joe Tsai, both announced the creation of personal charitable trusts funded by their share options, which to about 2 percent of Alibaba's equity.

Higher education continues to be at the top of the list of the most popular causes, with nearly 800 gifts totalling over $7.5 billion, or almost a third of all million dollar grants being given to support educational charities and causes.

Donations to universities and higher education institutions are commonplace because of their ability to absorb large amounts and the wide appeal they have for major donors, according to Setkova, who said such gifts are often used to support academic or scientific research, scholarship, or the building of new premises.