A record 165 philanthropists gave more than £1m to charity last year, according to the Sunday Times Giving List 2014.
The Sainsbury family, led by David – Lord Sainsbury of Turville – replaced the property developer David Kirch at the top of the list, becoming the biggest givers both in cash terms and as a proportion of their overall wealth.
Forming part of the Sunday Times Rich List, the Giving List is compiled from accounts lodged with the Charity Commission by donors, plus public announcements, fundraising events and a newspaper survey of donors.
Of the donors who gave more than £1m to charity, 48 gave more than £10m and 20 of these exceeded £25m, according to initial details from the list, which were published over the weekend.
The full list is due to be published over the course of the next two Sundays.
The total value of donations included in the list increased by 15 per cent year on year to reach £2.4bn this year.
Last year’s list showed that 138 philanthropists made donations of more than £1m, which itself was a record high.
It is the first time the Sainsburys have topped the list, despite frequently being ranked among the top 10 biggest donors.
About £165.3m of their money was put into 18 family trusts or distributed to charities last year, compared with Kirch’s £100m in 2012
Among the celebrities that gave away more than £1m in the past year were the bands One Direction and Coldplay, and the sportsmen David Beckham and Colin Montgomerie.
One Direction, which made the list for the first time in 2012, donated just under £2.1m, including £600,000 for an anti-bullying campaign in US schools – more than double the £1m the boy band gave away the previous year.
Beth Breeze, director of the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent and co-author of the annual Million Pound Donor Report, which also tracks charitable donations, said that although the Sunday Times’s list was a useful tool for encouraging competition among philanthropists, it was not exhaustive, because it focused only on the ultra high-net-worth individuals on the newspaper’s Rich List.
"It’s great if high-profile newspapers are doing work around giving and philanthropy, but I think fundraisers have the same reaction to these figures as I do, which is where is the money?" she said. "The answer is that most of the donations go to foundations and, if you’re a smaller charity, you’re lucky to get £1m."
Some donors, she pointed out, such as the businesswoman Steve Shirley, have fallen off the Rich List because of their prolific giving, or never made it onto the list in the first place for the same reason. But the figures were broadly in line with her own findings, she said.