Charitable giving in the United States increased 4.2 percent during 2019 to almost $450 billion, driven by individual and corporate giving on the strength of a strong stock market. The aggregate estimate of $449.64 billion was up $18.21 billion from the revised estimate of $431.43 billion for 2018, up 2.4 percent when adjusted for inflation.
The estimates come from Giving USA 2020: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2019, the longest-running and most comprehensive report of its kind in America, released today. It is published by Giving USA Foundation, a public service initiative of The Giving Institute, and researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI.
Giving USA is the first aggregate estimate of total giving in the U.S. for the previous year, based on various econometric modeling and government data. This initial estimate for 2019 will be revised again a year from now, when more data are available, and one last time in 2021.
Measured in current dollars, the $449.64 billion in 2019 giving is the highest dollar total to date. When adjusted for inflation, the overall total is second only to 2017 when $435.11 billion was reported. The revised total of $431.43 billion in giving for 2018 was up from an initial estimate of $427.71 billion a year ago.
“Donors’ giving patterns evolve in response to changes in economic and social forces. In 2019, we saw solid, broad-based growth in almost all aspects of charitable giving, and especially in giving by individuals due to strong growth in the S&P 500 and personal income,” said Una Osili, Ph.D., associate dean for research and international programs at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
“While giving trends vary by donors’ income and wealth, since the Great Recession, we have seen giving become more concentrated toward the top end of the income and wealth spectrum. We will continue to monitor how current events affect giving patterns,” she said via a press release announcing the results.
“The solid growth of giving in 2019 brought total giving close to the record level set in 2017, which means that the past three years are the three highest years on record,” said Rick Dunham, chair of Giving USA Foundation and founder and CEO of Dunham + Company. “While it’s too soon to tell what that will mean in the uncharted territory we all find ourselves in today, these estimates provide an important baseline for understanding where giving stood at the outset of the current crisis,” he said.
“In 2019, the growth in total giving was driven by an increase in giving by individuals, which remains by far the biggest source of giving. Interestingly, in recent years we’ve seen a consistent and growing trend in giving by foundations comprising a larger share of total giving than it did 15 years ago,” said Amir Pasic, Ph.D., the Eugene R. Tempel Dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “This change may reflect larger trends such as in the distribution of wealth and in asset growth across a decade of stock market expansion,” he said.
Eight out of nine subsectors tracked saw increases in giving last year, including double-digit growth by three of those. Six subsectors reached their highest ever totals, when adjusted for inflation:
- Public-society benefit organizations, +13.1 percent/11.1 percent, $37.1 billion
- Arts, culture, and humanities, +12.6 percent/10.6 percent, $21.64 billion
- Education, +12.1 percent/10.1 percent, $64.11 billion
- Environment and animal, +11.3 percent/9.4 percent, $14.16 billion
- Health, +6.8 percent/4.9 percent, $41.46 billion
- Human services, +5 percent/3.1 percent, $55.99 billion
- Foundations, +2.5 percent/0.6 percent, $53.51 billion
- Religion, +2.3 percent/0.5 percent, $128.17 billion
- International affairs, -0.4 percent/-2.2 percent, $28.89 billion
It’s the sixth consecutive year of growth for arts, culture and humanities while giving to international affairs organizations declined after two strong years of growth.
While giving by individuals was up, but for only the second time ever it comprised less than 70 percent of overall giving:
- Giving by corporations, +13.4 percent/11.4 percent, $21.09 billion
- Giving by individuals, +4.7 percent/2.8 percent, $309.66 billion
- Giving by foundations, +2.5 percent/0.7 percent, $75.69 billion
- Giving by bequest, +0.2 percent/-1.6 percent, $43.21 billion
Giving by foundations has grown in nine of the past 10 years, reaching a record dollar amount last year. Significant growth in corporate giving is indicative of this type of giving, which is highly responsive to changes in corporate pre-tax profits and GDP, and its year-over-year trend lines tend to be more turbulent as a result.
“It is encouraging to see that not only did America’s corporate and foundation contributions increase, but also that its citizens continue to account for the substantial majority of giving,” said Ted Grossnickle, chair of The Giving Institute, and senior consultant and founder of Johnson, Grossnickle + Associates.
“With the growth in giving from donor-advised funds, planned giving programs, and the evolution to online giving platforms and giving days, there are more varied opportunities than there were 10 years ago for nonprofits to engage with current and prospective donors,” said Laura MacDonald, vice-chair of Giving USA Foundation and founder of Benefactor Group.
“The 2019 results for recipient organizations are in line with the trends we have seen over time,” said Patrick M. Rooney, Ph.D., executive associate dean for academic programs at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “Generally speaking, when there is broad-based economic growth, it is reflected in increased giving to all of the various subsectors; however, giving to religion is usually the least affected by economic shifts,” he said.
Giving to individuals, which is 2 percent of total giving, is estimated to have increased 2.2 percent, or 0.4 percent when adjusted for inflation, to $10.11 billion. The bulk of these donations are in-kind gifts of medications to patients in need, made through the patient assistance programs of pharmaceutical companies’ operating foundations.
Unallocated giving was down $5.54 billion in 2019. This amount can be considered the difference between giving by source and recipient subsector in a particular year. It includes the difference between itemized deductions by individuals and households carried over from previous years. The tax year in which a gift is claimed by the donor (carried over) and the year when the recipient organization reports it as revenue (the year in which it is received) may be different.