“It’s time to speak up for Americans as the most generous and possibly the least-appreciated people on Earth.”   — Canadian journalist Gordon Sinclair

Americans proved their generosity by donating $42.10 billion to human services organizations in 2014, according to Giving USA 2015: Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2014. Donations to this sector were 3.6 percent higher, in current dollars, than in 2013 (1.9 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars). Contributions to all charities in 2014 totaled $358.4 billion, according to the report, which tracks and analyzes trends in philanthropy.

Human services charities provide much-needed assistance to low-income and underserved households and communities. Among the many roles they play are feeding the hungry, providing services for the handicapped, and sheltering the homeless. They offer help across the lifespan, from child and youth development programs to services supporting the elderly.

In a challenging economy with lingering unemployment and government cutbacks, donor dollars are needed to fill the gap. Fortunately, human services charities continue to hold great appeal. Charitable contributions to this sector have increased modestly but steadily each year since 2006. Organizations providing human services benefitted from this generosity, with many reporting that they were better able to meet demand in 2014, compared with 2013. Some 76 percent of nonprofits reported an increase in demand for services over the past seven years, according to the 2015 State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey.

The grass-roots support of human services organizations is clearly a sign that donors recognize their important contributions. A majority of donors who give to human services believe that nonprofits are critical to strong communities, states the Colorado Generosity Project, a study of how and why people give. The report points out that human services donors tend to give to nonprofits they have a relationship with and are particularly responsive to requests from someone they know. They regard their philanthropy as a partnership: working together with a nonprofit to improve their community. According to Giving USA, 63% of high net worth donors cited “giving back to the community” as a chief motivation for philanthropy.

How do these findings guide human services development professionals in formulating strategies? Once again, developing a strong and compelling case for support is vitally important in communicating your mission, goals, and accomplishments to potential donors. Good communication is key to connecting philanthropists to your cause. Keep your messaging simple and direct and demonstrate how you’re solving problems.

Maintain a focus on individual giving, still the largest area of philanthropy. Study your own data so you understand your donors and the projects they’ve supported in the past. Provide potential donors with opportunities to contribute in the future. With charitable contributions on the rise, perhaps now is a good time to launch the capital campaign your organization may be considering.

Keep in mind that donations from individuals, bequests, and family foundations amounted to an estimated 87 percent of total giving in 2014. That’s why it’s important to go back to the basics of philanthropy: establishing and growing relationships.