Giving in U.S. begins slight rise

Patrick Rooney
Patrick Rooney

Ret Boney

After two consecutive years of decline, charitable giving in the U.S. increased slightly in 2010, but remains well below pre-recession levels, a new report says.

Giving last year totaled an estimated $290.8 billion, up 2.1 percent from a revised 2009 total of $280.3 billion after adjusting for inflation, says the report from Giving USA Foundation and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

While that’s a vast improvement over 2008 and 2009, when combined giving for the two years fell more than 13 percent, it likely will be years before nonprofits see a full rebound in donations, says Patrick M. Rooney, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy.

“The sobering reality is that many nonprofits are still hurting, and if giving continues to grow at that rate, it will take five or six more years just to return to the level of giving we saw before the Great Recession,” Rooney says in a statement.

And the revised giving totals for 2008 and 2009 show the economy took a greater toll on giving than was previously understood.

“Our revised estimates show that 2008 and 2009 saw the largest drops in giving in more than 40 years as a result of the Great Recession, exceeding previous recessions’ impact on giving,” Edith Falk, chair of Giving USA Foundation, says in a statement.

Giving totals for 2008 were revised down to $299.8 billion from $307.7 billion and 2009 was revised to $280.3 billion from $303.8 billion, based on newly-released IRS data.

And the methodology for calculating 2010 numbers was changed to replace income data with personal-consumption data, an indicator researchers believe is more relevant during a recession, and to incorporate preliminary IRS data.

Individuals continued to provide the vast majority of donations last year, contributing $211.77 billion and $22.83 billion in bequests, which together account for 81 percent of total giving.

And when considering the additional $19.5 billion donated by family foundations, individuals accounted for 87 percent of all charitable contributions in 2010.

Foundations awarded $41 billion, or 14 percent of the total, and corporations donated $15.29 billion, or five percent of all charitable donations.

Giving grew in 2010 in inflation-adjusted dollars for all sectors except foundations, which gave 1.8 percent less than in 2009.

And continuing a long-term trend, religious organizations received the largest share of overall giving, at 35 percent, more than double the 14 percent received by educational organizations and the 11 percent donated to foundations.

However, giving to religious organizations fell 0.8 percent in 2010 after adjusting for inflation.

In a reversal of recession-era trends, giving to human services was essentially flat in 2010 after two years of gains.

“That’s unfortunate,” says Falk. “There’s still continuing need in that area. We’re all aware of the tremendous needs in our communities.”

That could be due in part to what Falk calls “compassion fatigue,” and donors may be returning to their prior patterns of giving after reallocating donations to basic needs, and away from areas like arts and culture, during the recession.

The 2010 data showed an uptick in giving for arts organizations, a trend that held true for the North Carolina Symphony in Raleigh, fueled in large part by individual donors.

Contributed income at the symphony grew to $3.84 million in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, from $3.71 million in 2009, and is expected to top $4 million in fiscal 2011, which ends this month, says Mary McFadden Lawson, vice president  for philanthropy at the symphony.

“Everyone got readjusted after the shock of their stocks declining,” says Lawson. “Our donors realize that music is a critical part of their lives and they don’t want to sit on the bench any longer. They’ve chosen their priorities and thankfully the symphony has been one of them.”

While the news from 2010 in general is positive, Falk calls the uptick in giving part of a “fragile recovery,” and warns that a return to pre-recession giving will take time.

“It’s still very much of a skittish environment out there,” she says. “When the news borders on being scary, people shut their wallets. If we can stay in a generally positive economic environment for the last quarter of the year, that will be good for all of us.”

Highlights from Giving USA for 2010, all in inflation-adjusted terms, include:

  • Giving by living individuals — $211.77 billion, up 1.1 percent from 2009; 73 percent of overall giving.
  • Giving through individual bequests — $22.83 billion, up 16.9 percent; 8 percent of the total.
  • Giving by foundations — $41 billion, down 1.8 percent; 14 percent of total giving.
  • Giving by corporations — $15.29 billion, up 8.8 percent; 5 percent of total giving.
  • Religious organizations received $100.63 billion, down 0.8 percent; 35 percent of total giving.
  • Education received $41.6 billion, up 3.5 percent; 14 percent of giving.
  • Foundations received $33 billion, up 0.2 percent; 11 percent of total giving.
  • Human-services organizations received $26.49 billion, down 1.5 percent; 9 percent of giving.
  • Health groups received $22.83 billion, down 0.3 percent; 8 percent of giving.
  • Public-society benefit organizations, which includes Jewish Federations and United Ways, received $24.24 billion, up 4.5 percent, and accounted for 8 percent of giving.
  • Arts, culture and humanities groups received $13.28 billion, up 4.1 percent, and accounted for 5 percent of total giving.
  • International-affairs, which includes humanitarian-aid groups received $15.77 billion, up 13.5 percent, and accounted for 5 percent of giving.
  • Environmental and animal organizations received $6.66 billion, down 2.3 percent, and accounted for 2 percent of giving.
  • Giving to individuals, primarily through gifts of medication, was flat at $4.2 billion, and accounted for 2 percent of giving.

Giving USA collects giving data from about 75 million U.S. households, more than 1 million corporations that claim charitable deductions, about 120,000 estates and about 77,000 foundations.

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