Mapping Philanthropic Support of Science

Louis M. Shekhtman, Alexander J. Gates, Albert-László Barabási


While philanthropic support plays an increasing role in supporting research, there is limited quantitative knowledge about the patterns that characterize the distribution of philanthropic support. Here, we map philanthropic funding to universities and research institutions based on IRS tax forms from 685,397 non-profit organizations. We identify nearly one million grants supporting institutions involved in science, finding that in volume and scope, philanthropic funding is comparable to federal research funding. However, whereas federal funding relies on a few large organizations to distribute grants, the philanthropic ecosystem's support is fragmented among a large number of funders with diverse focus that support research institutions at varying levels. Furthermore, we find that distinct from government support, philanthropic funders tend to focus locally, indicating that other criteria, beyond research excellence, play a role in their funding decisions. We also show evidence of persistence, i.e., once a grant-giving relationship begins, it tends to continue in time. Finally, we discuss the policy implications of our findings for philanthropic funders, individual researchers, the science of science, and for quantitative studies of philanthropy in general.

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