Giving Increases, But Donors’ Wealth Is Rising Quicker

October 21, 2014       Mark Hrywna      

Wealthy donors appear to be getting more optimistic, with more of them expecting to give more to charity during the next three to five years, according to the 2014 U.S. Trust Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy. Released today, the study has been written and researched in partnership with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

Some 85 percent expected to give as much (50 percent) or more (35 percent) during the next three to five years, up from 24 percent who said they planned to give more when asked in 2012. Results are based on a nationwide sample of 632 households with a net worth of $1 million or more (excluding the value of their primary home) and/or annual household income of $200,000 or more.

At the same time, average giving as a percentage of high net worth household income decreased, from 9 percent in 2011 to 8 percent in 2013. “That tells us incomes, at least in this demographic, are rising faster than giving,” said Claire Costello, national philanthropic practice executive for U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management in New York City.

“I don’t think it’s a sense of high-net worth households being less generous, but if you’re measuring total giving, generosity as percentage of wealth, it may just look like that,” said Patrick Rooney, Ph.D., associate dean for academic affairs and research at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

The average dollar amount given to charity by wealth donors increased 28 percent, from $53,519 in 2011 to $68,580 in 2013. Average giving rises with wealth levels: households with wealth between $1 million and $5 million in assets gave an average of $25,000, up from $18,000 in 201. Those with more than $5 million in assets gave an average of $166,000, up from $117,000 in 2011. About 1 in 10 wealthy donors gave a largest gift of $50,000 or more while more than a quarter gave a largest gift between $10,000 and $50,000. Almost two-thirds gave less than $10,000 as a largest gift.

More people are giving and more people are giving more, and planning on giving more in the future, Rooney said, and where the money goes is not new: education, and higher education in particular, gets the lion’s share of giving.

Education was the most popular destination for giving, with 85 percent of high-net worth households giving, followed by basic needs at 81 percent and arts at 70 percent. Among the lowest percentages was giving to international, 31 percent, and animals, at 35 percent. Within education, about 73 percent of households gave to higher education and 60 percent gave to K-12 education.

Education also received the largest dollar share of dollars at 28 percent — more than religion, environmental, arts, basic needs and international causes combined — while giving directly to giving vehicles, such as private foundations, donor-advised funds and charitable trusts, also netted 28 percent of giving by households. Religious organizations were second at 12 percent.

The survey took place between April and September, before some volatility in the stock markets in October. “There was some volatility but mostly things are going well,” Rooney said, adding that day-to-day, week-to-week and even month-to-month volatility doesn’t correlate to household giving but volatility in year-end to year-end markets does. “Uncertainty is the enemy of investment in the for-profit sector and philanthropic investment in the nonprofit sector, to the extent that people think their gains in the market are at risk, then they’re going to perhaps think twice about is this right time for a major gift, or appreciated stocks or other assets,” Rooney said.

The study has many of the same questions as in years past but also includes new ones that take a deeper dive, Costello said, which this year revolved around donor strategy and knowledge and the broader concept of being an informed donor. “Whether you consult with advisors, to tune up giving, do you have these stated goals and so forth,” she said.

Nonprofits, as well as philanthropic advisors, are being relied on increasingly as donors are looking to move up the strategy curve, Costello said. They are moving away from being scatter shot funders to more focused in their aim, to go deep and not wide.

Reliance on advisors has increased over time. In the beginning there was reliance on nonprofit personnel, Costello said, that has since moved to more traditional advisors. “Things got more sticky, maybe they needed more advice,” she said.

Costello emphasized that charities must listen to potential donors. “Mission won’t gain traction unless you listen. There’s got to be a dialogue. You can’t be simply about mission and how worthy it is because there are so many worthy missions out there,” she said.

Nearly three in four respondents said they are motivated to give when they believe their gift can make a difference or for personal satisfaction. About two thirds said they support the same causes/organization, and more than 60 percent said to give back to the community or when they serve on a board or volunteer for an organization.

About a third of those surveyed said they’re motivated to give to receive a tax benefit. If income tax deductions for donations were eliminated, about 48 percent said their current giving level would stay the same while 42 percent said it would somewhat decrease, compared with 9 percent who said they would dramatically decrease giving and 1 percent who said they would dramatically increase it. If the estate tax were permanently eliminated, 48 percent also said the amount they left to charity would remain the same but 31 percent said it would decrease somewhat while 18 percent said it would dramatically increase.

By a larger percentage than any year since the survey started in 2006, almost half of households said they would increase the amount they would leave to charity if the estate tax were permanently eliminated, including 18 percent who responded that they would “dramatically increase” their giving.

Almost three-quarters of wealthy donors opposed placing a cap on charitable tax deductions to reduce the federal deficit. Just one in 10 favored a cap. When asked to rank the importance of tax deductions to themselves and society, high net worth donors were split between mortgage interest, 31 percent and 30 percent, respectively, charitable deductions, 28 percent, and health care expenses, 23 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

The most common reason high net worth households gave for stopping giving to a charity was because they received solicitations too frequently or asked for an in appropriate amount (42 percent) or that they personally changed their philanthropic focus or decided to support other causes (35 percent).

In the event government decreased funding for an organization that a wealthy household supports, 32 percent said they would increase their contributions but only 12 percent would decrease support in response to an increase in government support.

About one in eight wealthy donors said they would be willing to make a commitment like The Giving Pledge. In 2010, Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates challenged their fellow billionaires to dedicate a least half of their wealth to philanthropy during their lifetime or in their estate plans. Donors who were willing to take The Giving Pledge gave almost five times more to charity ($202,000 versus $44,000) last year as those who were not willing to do so.