Giving inches up; recovery from plunge slow

Charitable giving in the U.S. grew slightly in 2011, regaining some of its losses from the collapse of the economy in 2008 but posting a two-year pace that marks the second-slowest post-recession recovery since 1971, a new report says.

After adjusting for inflation, giving grew 0.9 percent to $298.42 billion from a revised estimate of $268.91 billion in 2010, says Giving USA, a report from the Giving USA Foundation and its research partner, the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

In 2010 and 2011, giving grew by an average rate of 1.1 percent, compared to an average of 2.6 percent, after adjusted for inflation, in the two-year period after each recession over the past 40 years, the report says.

Individuals accounted for 88 percent of all giving, with living individuals accounting for 73 percent total giving, and bequests and family foundations accounting for 15 percent.

Giving by living individuals grew to $217.79 billion, an increase of 0.8 percent after adjusting for inflation.

Individual giving as a share of disposable personal income was flat at 1.9 percent in 2011, the same as 2009 and 2010, but far below the 2005 high of 2.4 percent.

Corporate giving totaled $14.55 billion, down 3.1 percent from 2010 after adjusting for inflation, and represented 5 percent of total giving.

Corporate pre-tax profits, traditionally a key factor in corporate donation levels, grew 4.2 percent, compared to 25 percent in 2010, the report says.

Between 1971 and 2011, giving by companies grew more slowly than the average inflation rate, with donations by U.S. companies growing 3.1 percent a year, on average, during the period, compared to inflation that averaged 4.4 percent a year for the period.

“Corporate generosity is real, and the nation’s charities would certainly feel its absence should the contributions go away,” Jim Yunker, chair of the Giving USA Foundation, says in a statement. “However, at a year-in, year-out 5 percent-sized slice of the giving pie, pragmatic nonprofits should consider additional potential funding sources when planning their appeals.”

The report calculates total giving by roughly 117 million households in the U.S., 12.4 million corporations that claim charitable donations, an estimated 99,000 estates, and about 76,000 foundations.

Those donations go to about 1.1million charities registered with the IRS, plus at least 222,000 religious organizations.

Gifts by bequests totaled an estimated $24.41 billion in 2011, up 8.8 percent from 2010 after adjusting for inflation, and represented 8 percent of total giving.

Giving by foundations totaled $41.67 billion, up 8.8 percent after adjusting for inflation, and represented 14 percent of total giving.

Religious groups received $95.88 million, down 4.7 percent when adjusted for inflation, and accounted for 32 percent of all giving, the most of any sector.

That represented the second straight year of lower giving to religious groups, the report says, citing declines in church membership and attendance, especially among mainline Protestant denominations, as well as the changing economic climate.

Those declines coincide with average population growth in the U.S. of 1 percent a year, on average, the report says.

“Any charity that is heavily dependent on its members for the majority of its annual budget needs to be cognizant of issues that could affect growth, commitment and donations,” Thomas W. Mesaros, chair of the Giving Institute, the group that formed the Giving USA Foundation, says in a statement.

Giving to human-services totaled $35.39 billion, down 0.6 percent after adjusting for inflation, and represented 12 percent of overall charitable donations.

Still, giving to human services was the third-highest ever, trailing only 2008 and 2010, the report says, adding that human-services giving typically is strong during times of perceived need.

“It is possible that pertinent messaging from these charities is still resonating with donors,” it says.

Giving to education totaled $38.87 billion, up 0.9 percent from 2010 after adjusting for inflation, and represented 13 percent of all charitable donations, while giving to health totaled $35.39 billion, down 0.4 percent after adjusting for inflation and representing 8 percent of overall giving.

Giving to foundations fell 8.9 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars to $25.83 billion and represented 9 percent of overall giving, while giving to “public-society-benefit” groups such as United Ways and the Combined Federal Campaign grew 0.9 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars to $21.37 billion and represented 7 percent of overall giving.

In comparison, the report says, the three largest donor-advised funds in the U.S. – Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, Schwab Charitable Gift Fund, and Vanguard Charitable Gift Fund – realized average growth of 77 percent in contributions received between 2010 and 2012.

Giving to arts, culture and humanities grew 1 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars to $13.12 billion and represented 4 percent of all charitable giving, while giving to international affairs grew 4.4 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars and represented 8 percent of overall giving.

From 2001 to 2011, giving to international groups grew 167.1 percent when adjusted for inflation, representing the fastest growth of any sector for the period.

Since 1987, giving to international affairs grew at an annual average rate of 9.4 percent, compared to a 4.4 percent average annual rate of inflation.

Giving to environmental and animal groups grew 1.4 percent, adjusted for inflation, to $7.81 billion, or 3 percent of overall giving, with gifts of $1 million or more to support the ongoing cleanup from the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico likely contributing to the increase.

And giving to individuals, mainly medications from operating foundations created by pharmaceutical makers, accounting for 1 percent of overall giving, and another $8.97 billion, or 3 percent, representing “unallocated” giving.

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