U.S. giving hits record $306 billion

Ret Boney

Even as Americans began feeling the pinch of soaring gas prices, falling stock markets and a looming mortgage crisis, they donated $306.39 billion to charity in 2007, more than ever before, a new report says.

That’s an increase of 3.9 percent, or 1 percent after adjusting for inflation, says Giving USA 2008, released by the Giving USA Foundation and compiled by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

That generosity was felt across the board as all subcategories of public charities saw increases in donations last year.

“I’m always gratified to see the numbers and to see that Americans continue to give and to give more, in spite of when they may be feeling other economic pressures,” says Del Martin, chair of the Giving USA Foundation and chair of Alexander Haas Martin & Partners, an Atlanta-based fundraising consultancy.

The strong showing, which belies the current state of the economy, is due to a strong stock market in the first half of 2007, growth in the nation’s gross domestic product and increases in corporate and personal income, the study says.

While the study does not include data for the first half of 2008, when the economic downturn accelerated, Martin is optimistic about this year’s showing.

“I think we’re going to see some growth,” she says. “It will either be about the same or a little less, unless there’s something we’re unaware of that hits us catastrophically. Giving seems to be somewhat recession-proof.”

Individuals continued to serve as the engine of the charitable sector, even as their donations dropped a slight 0.1 percent after inflation to $229.03 billion, accounting for 74.8 percent of all giving in 2007.

Add to that the $23.15 billion that people donated through their wills and their family foundations, and giving by individuals made up 88 percent of all contributions last year.

Just over half of donations from individuals last year were directed to religious organizations, which received a total of $102.32 billion, up an inflation-adjusted 1.8 percent over 2006, the study says.

Foundations increased their share of support for the nation’s nonprofits last year to 12.6 percent of all giving.

Donations from foundations totaled $38.52 billion, an increase of 7.3 percent after inflation, according to data from the Foundation Center.

That increase is attributable in part to a 12 percent rise in foundation assets in 2007, the report says.

Corporations, on the other hand, responded to profit pressures with a slight dip in giving of 0.9 percent after inflation, for a total of $15.69 billion contributed last year.

All subcategories of public charities saw increases in donations last year:

  • Religion: $102.32 billion, up 1.8 percent after inflation
  • Education: $43.32 billion, up 3.4 percent after inflation
  • Human services: $29.64 billion, up 5.4 percent after inflation
  • Health: $23.15 billion, up 2.4 percent after inflation
  • Public society benefit: $22.65 billion, up 2.9 percent after inflation
  • Arts, culture and humanities: $13.67 billion, up 4.8 percent after inflation
  • International affairs: $13.22 billion, up 12.9 percent after inflation
  • Environment and animals: $6.96 billion, up 7.7 percent after inflation

Foundations were the only recipients to take a hit in 2007, with gifts received falling an inflation-adjusted 11.9 percent to $27.73 billion, according to data from the Foundation Center and Giving USA.

That drop is due in part to a spike in the number of bequests to family foundations in 2006, the Giving USA Foundation says, as well as billionaire Warren Buffett’s $1.6 billion gift to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the total of $159 million he gave in 2006 to three foundations run by his children.

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