News and analysis
October 29, 2015

How the 2015 Philanthropy 400 Was Compiled

The Chronicle’s Philanthropy 400 ranks the U.S. charities that raised the most from private sources in the 2014 fiscal year. The donations may include cash, stock, land, or in-kind gifts such as donated pharmaceuticals or food. Government grants, however, are excluded.

The results were compiled from data obtained through a survey sent to nearly 750 tax-exempt organizations and from information collected from Form 990 informational tax filings filed with the Internal Revenue Service. 

For 13 cases in which 990 data was not available other reports of fiscal activity were used, such as publicly available annual reports and financial statements. Those records are marked with an asterisk in our database.

Because this report intends to show which nonprofits in the United States are most successful in soliciting donations from the public, private foundations are excluded from the list, as are organizations based overseas. 

Nonprofits with affiliates were asked to provide consolidated figures that included private contributions raised by those affiliates. In a few cases, organizations with affiliates that did not file a consolidated Form 990 or provide data to The Chronicle were excluded from this year’s rankings.

To provide data for the 2014 fiscal year, some charities relied on draft 990s or unaudited financial statements. Figures that are estimates are noted.

Because fiscal years may vary, the figures in this report do not always cover the same time period. In addition, 2014 figures were not available for 30 organizations, so The Chronicle used 2013 fiscal-year data instead. Those cases are noted.

Historical Data

This year’s report includes 24 years of historical data on the country’s largest charities analyzed and updated by William Suhs Cleveland, a doctoral candidate at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. 

Based on data from past surveys conducted by The Chronicle, Mr. Cleveland matched 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. Data from tax filings were obtained from GuideStar and the Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics to update the rankings as they were published from 1991 through 2014. 

Wherever possible, the data included donations received by affiliates with the same brand or under the same governing-board leadership. Data from Forms 990 showed that in some cases, excluded groups should have been in the original rankings, and their figures have been added.

Colleges and Religious Groups

For private and public colleges and universities, The Chronicle used data collected by the Council for Aid to Education in its annual Voluntary Support of Education survey. Figures obtained from the council, however, are based on a different accounting system than the Form 990. Specifically, the 990 (and our survey) asks charities to include pledged gifts, which the council excludes. Colleges and universities whose figures come from the council’s survey are marked with an asterisk in our database.

For six universities on our list, financial data from the council was not available so we used data from the Form 990 or our survey.

This list includes fiscal data on both individual college branches and consolidated college systems. In most cases, data on individual colleges were used. However, some university systems were included in this year’s 400 to maintain consistency with previous years’ lists. In cases where a system’s figures are used, the individual branches that make up the system are excluded to avoid double counting private support. 

Religious organizations may receive an exemption from filing a Form 990 with the IRS. The religious organizations that appear in this year’s rankings shared their financial data with The Chronicle or filed a Form 990. Those that did not share that fiscal information and did not file a 990 are not included in this list.

The Chronicle strives to include all charities that may be eligible for the Philanthropy 400. To suggest a group for inclusion, please send an email to:

Send an email to Peter Olsen-Phillips.