Giving stumbles in 2008

Ret Boney

For only the second time in 54 years, charitable giving by Americans dropped last year, falling to an estimated $307.65 billion in 2008 from a record $314.07 billion in 2007, a new report says.

That’s a decline of two percent, or a drop of 5.7 percent after adjusting for inflation, says Giving USA 2009, published by the Giving USA Foundation and compiled by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

And although giving was down, Del Martin, chair of the foundation, says she’s proud of Americans, noting that the banking or auto industries would be happy with that kind of performance.

“When push comes to shove, even in one of the worst economic times most of us can remember, they still gave away $307 billion this year,” she says of Americans.

But unless there is a “major positive shift economically” during the last two quarters of 2009, she believes giving will be flat or down again this year.

Declines were seen across all categories of givers in 2008, including individuals, who are the engine of American philanthropy, and were felt by all but two categories of recipients.

Individuals gave three-quarters of all charitable contributions last year, totaling $229.28 billion, down 6.3 percent after adjusting for inflation.

Add to that the $22.66 billion they gave as bequests, and the $18.5 billion donated through family foundations, and individuals accounted for 88 percent of all giving in 2008.

Giving by American corporations and their affiliated foundations, which together accounted for five percent of all giving, fell to $14.5 billion last year, a decline of 8 percent after adjusting for inflation.

Foundations, including family foundations, awarded a total of $41.21 billion in 2008, down a slight 0.8 percent after adjusting for inflation, and accounted for 13 percent of overall giving.

Religious congregations and organizations represented one of only two categories to see increases in 2008, receiving a total of $106.89 billion, an inflation-adjusted rise of 1.6 percent. They received over a third of all donations.

The public-society benefit sector, which includes organizations like United Ways and Jewish federations, received $23.88 billion, up 1.5 percent after adjusting for inflation, and accounted for 7 percent of all giving.

All remaining categories saw their donations drop last year after adjusting for inflation:

  • Education: $40.94 billion, down nine percent and accounting for 13 percent of giving
  • Foundations: $32.65 billion, down 22.2 percent and accounting for 11 percent of giving
  • Health: $21.64 billion, down 10 percent and accounting for seven percent of giving
  • Arts/culture/humanities: $12.79 billion, down 9.9 percent and accounting for four percent of giving
  • International affairs: $13.3 billion, down 3.1 percent and accounting for four percent of giving
  • Environment/animals: $6.58 billion, down nine percent and accounting for two percent of giving

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