The research was conducted by Inyathelo, the South African Institute for Advancement and included 12 of South Africa's 26 universities.
The institutions were the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, UCT, Durban University of Technology, University of the Free State, University of Johannesburg, University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of Pretoria, University of Stellenbosch, Tshwane University of Technology, University of the Western Cape, University of the Witwatersrand, and University of Zululand .
They reported a philanthropic income of R1.63billion in 2016 - a massive boost of almost R1bn (R970million) over a four-year period.
The overall amount of R1.63bn was attributed to a total of 9448 donors across the 12 institutions. South Africans contributed 56% of the total funding and made up 90% of all donors.
International donors contributed 44% of philanthropic income but comprised only 10% of donors
Universities SA chief executive Ahmed Bawa said: “This is extraordinarily good news. There has always been deep concern that the South African culture of giving has not developed to the same extent that it has in other parts of the world.
“Most importantly, it is recognition that universities are being seen as important social institutions that are fundamental to the challenges of development.”
The study did, however, find that 90% of the funding was still going to traditional institutions.
Bawa said: “This is very disappointing, but we should not be surprised. There are several reasons for this.
"Most donors will have historical connections to those institutions that we may think of as historically advantaged, and it is a global phenomenon that individual donors have strong affinities to the institutions that they feel connected to.
“Further, these more established institutions will usually have larger research enterprises, and most of this donor income would have been received for interesting research and innovation projects of some kind or the other.
"And perhaps, most importantly, these universities have the more developed Advancement Offices. This is important.”