Americans opened their hearts and their wallets last year, donating a whopping $358.4 billion to charity, according to Giving USA 2015: Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2014. This report, from the Giving USA Foundation, has tracked and analyzed trends in charitable donations for the past 60 years. The 2014 tally is the largest ever—a 7.1 percent increase over donations in 2013 (5.4 percent when adjusted for inflation).
For those in the fundraising community, these findings are great news, signaling a definitive end to the deep recession of the past decade. The recession had a serious impact on giving, which had dropped by 14 percent from 2007 to 2009. Many experts predicted that recovery would take at least a decade, but it happened much more quickly. Giving USA points out that the 2009-2014 period is the fastest recovery on record in the past 40 years.
In 2014 all four sources of giving—individuals (who comprised 72 percent of the total); foundations (15 percent); bequests (8 percent); and corporations (5 percent)—increased their donations to more than one million American charities. The increase is a show of confidence by donors, despite the economic challenges at home and globally. It’s also an acknowledgement of the contributions made by nonprofits who support their communities day in and day out.
The largest source of giving is from individuals, with an increase of 5.7 percent over last year, again in inflation-adjusted dollars. “Individual giving is affected by available disposable income at the household level, wealth and growth in the S&P 500,” explains W. Keith Curtis, chair of the foundation. Americans’ disposable income increased last year, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The number of wealthy U.S. households is the highest it’s ever been, and wealthy Americans did their part in boosting charitable giving. Among the most generous were Bill and Melinda Gates, who gave $1.9 billion to the Gates Foundation, and tech entrepreneur Sean Parker, who donated $550 million to various charities. Many other tech entrepreneurs focused their gifts on medical research.
While gifts to religious organizations accounted for the greatest percentage of donations (32 percent), the increase was a modest 2.5 percent in today’s dollars, down from a 6 percent increase from 2012 to 2013. Religion-based giving is actually on a 30-year downward slide, dropping from 51 percent of all donations in the five-year period of 1990 to 1994 to 33 percent of the total in the last five-year period (2010-2014). Some experts attribute this to the fact that fewer Americans, and particularly millennials, identify with a religion, attend services, or give to a religious institution.
Gifts to educational institutions remained strong, with higher education in particular reaping the benefits of several multi-million dollar gifts. Contributions to education in 2014 totaled the highest inflation-adjusted value recorded to date.
Understanding these trends is very useful in planning for the future and creating new campaigns. Studying trends can also help nonprofits better understand the behavior and motivation of donors. In the weeks to come we’ll examine the data from Giving USA more closely, taking a close look at the education, human services, and health care sector.