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Giving USA 2015 Report: Philanthropy Surges 5.4% to Record $358 Billion

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Charitable giving rose 5.4 percent last year to a record $358.4 billion, according to estimates released today by "Giving USA," the annual snapshot of American philanthropy.

The figures show that donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations last year topped the record giving figure achieved in 2007, just before the recession started to affect donation figures. The recovery was the shortest on record after such a devastating and deep recession and was also far faster than experts had predicted. Some had said it would take a decade or more until giving bounced back.

"Giving USA" says now that the 2009-to-2014 recovery is the fastest on record in the past 40 years. The report, researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, is considered the most comprehensive source of data on patterns on Americans’ charitable giving.

Giving to all types of charities rose last year except to international aid groups, which dropped 3.6 percent, in part because few natural disasters called attention to the need to donate. Giving was slow to human services agencies as well, increasing by 3.6 percent.

As the economy grew, philanthropy grew even faster. Giving reached 2.1 percent of GDP of last year — up from 2.0 percent in 2013 and the highest it’s been since 2003. That growth may seem insignificant, but each 0.1 percentage point results in an increase of $17 billion.

Here are some of the key findings in the report. All numbers are have been adjusted for inflation.

1. While living individuals provide the lion’s share of charitable donations, they’re not increasing their giving nearly as fast as corporations and foundations are.

Giving by living individuals, family foundations, and bequests represents 87 percent of total giving. Donations from living Americans represented 72 percent of the total while bequests were 8 percent.

Individual contributions were $258.5-billion last year, still shy of 2007, when they provided the highest ever donated — $266.1-billion.

Bequests, on the other hand, were very strong, rising 13.6 percent to $28.13-billion, in part because of some big estates being settled, such as the $1-billion provided by Ralph Wilson, who was owner of the Buffalo Bills until he died last year and who ranked No. 2 on The Chronicle’s list of the 50 most generous donors of 2014.

2. Corporations and foundations are sharply raising the bar on their charitable giving, but Americans are not adding much to their foundations.

Companies increased their contributions by nearly 12 percent, to $17.8 billion. The healthy upswing in giving by companies was tied to faster growth in corporate pre-tax profits and the gross domestic product. Because "Giving USA" counts donations of products as well as cash, that increase might appear healthier than many charities that depend on cash have actually felt.

Foundation giving is also healthy, growing 6 percent and representing 15 percent of the total, at $53.9 billion.

But "Giving USA" researchers pointed out a long-term concern about the figures: Americans increased their contributions to foundations by just 1 percent last year, perhaps because they were steering their money to fast-growing donor-advised funds instead.

3. The recession hit philanthropy even harder than previously thought.

Total giving dropped by 14 percent from 2007 to 2009, the report said, a steeper drop than "Giving USA" has reported in the past and the most serious decline in the 60 years it has recorded contributions.

4. Religious giving remains strong but is losing ground to giving to other causes.

While religious organizations gained, generating $114.9 billion or 32 percent of total gifts, more than any other cause, they are slipping from previous years when they commanded 40 to 50 percent of all giving. Giving to religious causes was 56 percent of the total from 1985 to 1989 but just 33 percent from 2010 to 2014. Last year’s growth was just a 0.9-percent increase.

Arts, culture, and humanities groups topped the growth list of charity beneficiaries, with a 7.4-percent increase in giving, to $17.23 billion. Environment and animal causes together were the second fastest-growing cause, at 5.3 percent.

Suffering the biggest lag in giving were international affairs groups, which dropped 3.6 percent.

5. The share of income Americans give is rising slowly.

As the economy strengthened, Americans had more money in their pockets, gaining an increase of 3.8 percent in money left over after paying for essentials like housing and food. But the rise in giving was not commensurate with the gain in disposable income.

The percentage Americans donated remained at 2 percent of disposable income in both 2013 and 2014, a slight increase from the 1.8-to-1.9-percent range, where it hovered from 2008 through 2012. The share Americans donated reached a high of 2.4 percent in 2000, as the tech industry was booming. Many philanthropic experts have expressed frustration that the percentage of income Americans give to charity changes little even when the economy is strong.

This article by Holly Hall, Eden Stiffman, Ron Coddington, and Meredith Myers was published June 16, 2015 in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

To order the Giving USA 2015 report, visit

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