top of page





On average, the wealthy give more because they have more. After a simplistic statement of the obvious, there is actually more to it than that. There are high net worth individuals (HNWI) as well as ultra high net worth people (UHNW) who don’t give as much as others who are not within those classes. But studies show that on average, those who have more tend to give more. According to Wealth-X, a New York-based wealth information and insight provider, globally, the UHNWs, who have assets above $30 million, have a higher percentage of participation in philanthropy than those with a net worth of between $1 million and $30 million, or the HNWI population. Additionally, most HNWIs might prioritize preserving wealth for their family, and donate to existing strategically targeted charitable programs, whereas the UHNWs might have established detailed gift agreements with institutions. However, both give for the same reason: to make a significant impact.

Where the Money Goes

Putting their money to work for good, a large percentage of HNWIs and UHNWs give to worthy causes that typically have a personal, emotional connection to the giver. If its for a cure for a disease, it’s been found that disease has affected the giver or someone the wealthy individual knows personally. Often the giver has such a passion for the cause and the organization that they end up serving with their time as well, providing insight as a board member or rolling up their sleeves to assist with physical labor.

Interestingly, according to the 2018 US Trust Study of High Net-Worth Philanthropy, conducted by Bank of America in partnership with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, the overwhelming majority of American high net worth households reported making charitable donations. Last year, 90% of this group gave to charity, compared to 56% of the general US population. On average, high net worth donors gave $29,269 to charity in 2017, up by 15% from $25,509 in 2015. By comparison, households in the general population gave an average of $2,514, comparable to the $2,520 reported in 2016. In the High Net Worth Study, charitable giving was practiced somewhat more frequently by women, at 93%, and in African-American households, at 92%.

Although a byproduct of giving, receiving tax benefits is generally not a prime motivation for giving for HNWIs. The Lilly Family School study found that just 17% of wealthy donors said they were always motivated to give by tax benefits, consistent with the 18% of those who cited this as a motivation in 2015. An additional 51% said that tax benefits sometimes motivate their giving.

Not Just Money

In 2017, 48% of wealthy individuals volunteered their time and talents to charitable organizations they care about, a rate nearly twice that of the total survey population (25%). Women were more likely to volunteer than men, at 56% versus 41%, and 60% of Hispanic-Americans volunteered, well above the Study average. Service on a nonprofit organization’s board was cited as being among their volunteer activities by 24% of respondents. The main reasons for accepting the invitation to serve were belief in the organization’s mission (72%), and the opportunity to use their skills and experience (71%). Additionally, 38% of respondents who serve on a board said that they give more in financial support to that organization than to those organizations where they do not serve. As with the decision to serve, the main reason for this increased level of giving was belief in the mission of the organization (81%).

How to Give

For some HNWIs, accumulating wealth took nearly a lifetime of great effort. Giving some of it away can also require an additional amount of labor, talent, and skill. As Andrew Carnegie found when he set the goal of giving away all of his wealth before he died, there are challenges for HNWIs when they decide to give. The Lilly study uncovered that wealthy donors reported that their greatest challenge when it comes to charitable giving is identifying what causes they care about and deciding where to donate (45%). Other charitable giving challenges include understanding how much they can afford to give (37%), allocating time to volunteer with the organizations they care about (30%) and monitoring giving to ensure it has its intended impact (30%).

One of the tools HNWIs use to help them donate is a Donor-Advised Fund (DAF), that allows them to give though their family foundations. A DAF provides the convenience of anonymity and allows people to make a charitable contribution, receive an immediate tax deduction and then recommend grants from the fund over time. Another alternative is to start a non-profit foundation. The advantage here is that a foundation offers the greatest level of control over how resources and funds are allocated. Finally, a scholarship fund is another good vehicle to use for giving and is also a good way to honor a loved one or empower educational opportunities in a particular discipline, such as art, science or music.

bottom of page