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'Giving USA', 2011 Edition

June 20, 2011

GivingUSA The annual Giving USA report was released earlier today, and the headline number -- charitable giving totaled $290.89 billion in 2010, up from a revised estimate of $280.30 billion in 2009 -- failed to generate any real enthusiasm. In a year that saw equity markets and endowment values rebound sharply from the dark days of 2008 and 2009, the estimated increase represents growth of just 2.1 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Before we get to some of the commentary, here are a few other numbers from the report:

Giving by type of donor

  • Individual giving was up an estimated 2.7 percent (1.1 percent in inflation-adjusted terms), to $211.77 billion.
  • According to the Foundation Center, foundation grantmaking by private, community, and operating foundations fell 0.2 percent (-1.8 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to $41 billion.
  • Charitable bequests rose 18.8 percent (16.9 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to an estimated $22.83 billion.
  • Corporate giving was up 10.6 percent (8.8 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to an estimated $15.29 billion.

Giving by type of recipient

  • Representing 35 percent of overall contributions, giving to religion was up 0.8 percent (-0.8 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to an estimated $100.63 billion 
  • Giving to education increased 5.2 percent (3.5 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to an estimated $41.67 billion.
  • Giving to foundations (private, operating, and community) rose 1.9 percent (0.2 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to $33 billion.
  • Giving to human services was up 0.1 percent (-1.5 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to an estimated $26.49 billion. This includes most of the $1.43 billion donated for Haiti disaster relief; ex Haiti, giving for human services would have declined 4 percent (-5.6 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars).
  • Giving to public-society benefit organizations (e.g., United Way, United Jewish Appeal, Combined Federal campaign, freestanding donor-advised funds like the Fidelity Charitabel Gift Fund) increased 6.2 percent (4.5 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to an estimated $24.24 billion.
  • Giving to health rose 1.3 percent (-0.3 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to an estimated $22.83 billion.
  • Giving to international affairs jumped 15.3 percent (13.5 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to an estimated $15.77 billion.
  • Giving to arts and culture rose 5.7 percent (4.1 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to an estimated $13.28 billion.
  • Giving to environment/animal-related organizations fell 0.7 percent (-2.3 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars), to an estimated $6.66 billion.

Downward revisions

  • The report also revised downward estimates for total giving in 2008 and 2009 --from $307.65 billion and $303.75 billion, respectively, to $303.65 billion and $280.30 billion.

The glass-half-full nature of the report was captured by Patrick Rooney, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy, who called the inflation-adjusted increase of 2.1 percent in overall giving "good news." But, added Rooney, "the sobering reality is that many nonprofits are still hurting, and if giving continues to grow at this rate, it will take five or six more years just to return to the level of giving we saw before the Great Recession."

In the Nonprofit Times, sector veteran Elizabeth Boris, director of the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute, echoed that sentiment: "It seems like we've gone quite a ways back in the giving and it's going to take us a long time to recover, unless the economy takes a giant step forward." Boris also noted the significant revision to the 2009 data: "It makes me a bit concerned...talking about $280 billion in 2009; you have to go all the way back to 2003 or 2004 to see numbers like that."

Elsewhere, the Nonprofit Quarterly's Ruth McCambridge and Rick Cohen thought the picture painted by the report was "alarming," in that the numbers suggested "a significant disinvestment in people in need on the domestic front." And they cautioned fundraisers not to assume that "the unending generosity of the American charitable donor will win out."

But what most concerns McCambridge and Cohen about this year's report (as Phil Cubeta picked up on in his Gift Hub blog) is the evidence it offers for a growing "class divide" in society and the nonprofit sector. "What the Giving USA numbers suggest," they write,

is not only a crisis of declining charitable giving reaching human services or social safety net groups, but a class divide where the groups that do well in charitable solicitations are those with connections, with the social class interrelationships that give them automatic access. Meanwhile, charitable giving for human services is very much the province of the less moneyed donors, the payroll deduction donors, the people who volunteer at the shelter or food pantry or clinic because they know the tangible importance of those institutions to their communities....

Just as corporate CEO compensation is now back at pre-recession levels even while joblessness persists, the needs of the poor and of the organizations that serve the poor have virtually disappeared from political discourse and from the priority lists of philanthropy. And the incentives -- bequests, IRA rollovers, etc. -- flow toward the institutions with the fundraising infrastructures and the social connections to major donors....

What do you think? Were you surprised by anything in this year's report? Do you expect overall giving in 2011 to be up more than the 2.1 percent we saw in 2010? Do the numbers in this year's report reflect the growing inequality in American society? And is it time, as McCambridge and Cohen suggest in their article, to rethink the incentives built into our charitable giving structure in a way that addresses that inequality?

CORRECTION, June 22, 11:50 a.m.: The original version of this post mistakenly attributed the first paragraph of the quote above to Gift Hub blogger Phil Cubeta. The graph in question actually was part of an insightful piece written by the Nonprofit Quarterly's Ruth McCambridge and Rick Cohen. Thanks to the Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence's Fayre Crossley for bringing the misattribution to my attention. And my apologies to Ruth and Rick for the mistake.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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