Study: Continued Attrition In Giving

Twenty million fewer households gave to charity in the United States between 2000 and 2016 but the average amount given to charity remained relatively constant through the Great Recession, with a few exceptions, according to a new report.

The findings come from Changes to the Giving Landscape, a new report by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI with funding from The Vanguard Charitable Philanthropic Impact Fund. Data were analyzed from the Lilly School’s Philanthropic Panel Study (PPS), within the University of Michigan’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which tracks the same 9,000-plus families’ charitable giving biennially.

“The study shows continued attrition in the percent of American households who gave to charity, from about two-thirds in 2000 to just over half in 2016. At the same time, the households who gave maintained or slightly increased the amount of their giving, on average,” said Una Osili associate dean for research and international programs at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. The 20 million fewer households that gave to charity represents a decline of about 13 percent.

The 26-page report analyzes the effects of the 2008 Great Recession on charitable giving across various demographics and examines differences before and after the economic downturn.

The average American donor household gave $2,584 overall in 2000 and $2,763 in 2016, which remains fairly constant when adjusted for inflation. The percentage of annual household income given, however, shows a different story. Before the recession, about 2.54 percent of annual household income went to charity, compared with 2.19 percent after the recession. When adjusted for inflation, that’s an average decline of $180, or about 11 percent, from $1,714 to $1,529.

With few exceptions, the Great Recession did not significantly impact the percentage of income that Americans gave to charity. Exceptions only were found among households led by individuals with less than a high school degree and annual income and/or wealth of less than $50,000. They gave a smaller percentage of their income after the recession compared to before, “mirroring the slow recovery of this group” after the recession.

“Households more strongly affected by the recent Great Recession experienced a slower recovery since it ended, and have, predictably, experienced larger declines in their charitable giving compared to households less affected by the recession,” according to the report.

The percent of income given to both secular (0.99 percent) and religious (1.62 percent) charities was significantly higher before the Recession compared to after the Recession (0.82 percent and 1.39 percent, respectively).

Following the Great Recession, all generations had trended upward in terms share of income given to charity although not significantly. Donor households headed by older generations continued to contribute the largest share of their income both before and after the recession:

  • Greatest Generation, 6.94 percent to 8.8 percent;

  • Silent Generation, 3.63 percent to 3.92 percent;

  • Baby Boomers, 2.11 percent to 2.16 percent;

  • Generation X, 1.21 percent to 1.26 percent; and

  • Millennials, 0.65 to 0.9 percent.