Americans & Their Giving

 An overview on the changing pattern of giving in the U.S.

By: Jack Brooks, Executive Director

The Giving USA Foundation and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, recently released their annual look at philanthropy in the United States, a survey done annually since 1956. The news for 2011 gives a snapshot of both the landscape of charitable donations and America’s generosity.

Last year $298.42 billion was donated in America. This was an increase of 4 percent from 2010’s $286.91 billion. Of this giving, 73 percent came from individuals like you and me. Even when adding the huge dollars given each year by such organizations as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Buffett Foundation, and many other foundations in our area, individuals gave, in amounts both big and small, 73 percent of all donations last year. When all bequests and family foundations are added to this amount the total given by individuals was 88%!

The 2011 report shows some encouraging signs. Americans are continuing to give, they are feeling slightly more confident in doing so and they continue to believe in the mission of charitable organizations. While that is all good news, there is also the sobering news that in the last two years, while showing increases in giving, this represents the slowest economic post-recession recovery in over 40 years. It’s not surprising that as long as there is continued volatility in the economy, charitable giving will reflect this reality in the coming months and years ahead. So how to look at this…and what does it mean for you and for me?

Well, it means that American individuals are committed to church and charity — much more than corporations and more than the largest foundations — by supporting the critical and essential work done by the more than 1.5 million charities in the U.S. to address global issues.

It means that individuals — just like you — have a voice in what gets done and how.

And it means that YOU can make change happen, with $10 or $100 or $1,000 or much more, and that the causes you care about are getting their work done because you make it possible.

Here is where American giving is coming from…

  • Individuals represented, as noted above, 73 percent of total giving
  • Bequests (gifts in a will) were 8 percent of giving
  • Corporate giving (corporations and corporate foundations) was flat – just 5 percent of the total
  • Charitable Foundation support was up but represents only 14 percent of the total

… and where it’s going:

  • Education, which ranked second (far behind religion), was 13 percent of the total
  • Human Services was 12 percent of the total, an increase of 2.5 percent and the third highest total ever for this subsector
  • Health donations increased and were 8% of the total
  • International Affairs grew to 8 percent, partly due to the fact that more charities are working internationally, like the United Methodist Church, to address major disasters around the world.
  • Public-Society benefit support was 7 percent. However, the three largest “Donor Advised Funds” in this group grew by an astounding 77 percent
  • Support of Arts, Culture and Humanities was 4 percent of the total
  • Giving to Environmental and Animal organizations increased to 3 percent of donations
  • Of special note:
  • Religion continued to be, as always, the largest of all subsectors and in 2011 and was 32 percent of all giving. But 2011 was the second straight year showing decreases in the amount given to religious organizations, declining by 1.7 percent
  • Giving to Foundations decreased by 6.1 percent to 9 percent of the total