by Jeff Small,
JGA Writer and Project Manager
and Giving USA Editorial Review Board Member
Giving USA released its annual estimates of charitable giving totals in the United States today. At JGA we believe these estimates are essential to understanding the trends that are driving philanthropic decisions and the overall landscape of giving. We are proud to have members of our firm participate on the board of the Giving Institute and the Giving USA Foundation, groups that have supported this annual tracking of giving for half a century.
Giving USA estimates that giving increased 3.5 percent in 2012 to just over $316 billion. This is the third consecutive year of positive growth in giving.
This string of growth would normally not be terribly notable since there have only been three years total in the past 40 in which overall giving in current dollars declined. Unfortunately, two of those years of decline occurred in 2008 and 2009 as charitable giving fell off a metaphorical cliff during the Great Recession.
The good news is that despite that unprecedented precipitous fall, charitable giving appears to be rebounding in a somewhat standard fashion. The average growth over the past three years has tracked close to the 2.6 percent rate of growth seen in past three-year post-recession periods, so the unprecedented decline did not fundamentally alter the resiliency of charitable giving in the United States.
The bad news is that when adjusted for inflation, we are still well below the high-water mark of $344 billion achieved in 2007. At our current rate of growth, it will take at least another five years to reach that level again.
These findings continue to give us cause for optimism that the philanthropic recovery from the Great Recession has found stable footing. They also remind us that as fundraisers, you must continue to commit yourselves to strong fundraising fundamentals and building relationships with individuals.
Rising stock values and increasing consumer confidence and consumption are driving an overall reinvestment in the nonprofit sector, but how is it impacting your donors specifically?
Giving USA can’t give you that information. Those are the types of things you and your staff can only learn through personal connection and contact with your donors. This information, and these relationships, are extremely critical. As Giving USA reminds us, 86 percent of donative decisions are being made by individuals, couples, and families through individual giving, bequests, and family foundation giving.
Other notable findings from Giving USA 2013 include:
- Giving by Foundations and Corporations are helping drive growth: Giving USA estimates that giving by corporations grew over 12 percent in 2012, and nearly 15 percent total over the past two years. Giving by foundations has also shown double digit growth over the same two year period, increasing nearly 12 percent. Giving by individuals, in contrast, grew 3.5 percent this year and just under 8 percent the past two years.
- Stagnation of religious giving: Giving to religion appears to have fallen slightly in both current and inflation adjusted dollars. While revised totals show a slight increase in giving to religion in 2011, the overall growth of giving to religion over the past two years has been slower than the sector as a whole and lags behind all other subsectors.
- A return to earth for Giving to international affairs and giving to foundations: Giving to both international affairs and foundations have been on strong trajectories for a number of years, threatening to permanently realign the observed charitable priorities of Americans. This year giving to foundations experienced a decline of 4.6 percent in current dollars, and international affairs grew only slightly at 2.5 percent. At the same time, more traditional domestic priorities, like education, health, arts & culture, and the environment & animals grew more quickly than the sector as a whole.