Giving USA 2008 Report: Not All Doom and Gloom

June 25th, 2009

The breadth and scope of American philanthropy remains unparalleled in this world. Giving USA released its summary of giving for 2008 on June 10, 2009, and we report here from the June 11, 2009 “Non Profit Times” report by Mark Hrywna . Overall the results show a downward trend when compared to previous giving, yet herein, I excerpt from the report to show many of the details and to focus upon the positive notes. Visualization is a powerful tool, thus the focus of this edited piece. (Italics are ours for emphasis.) Go to for the full report

“Overall giving in the United States declined last year by 2 percent, the largest drop since records have been kept and the first since 1987. Giving by individuals again made up about three-quarters of all giving but declines in foundation endowments and grantmaking might make for an even more challenging environment for next year’s report.

The $307.65 billion estimate in giving last year represents a decline of $6.42 billion, or 2 percent, but 5.7 percent when adjusted for inflation, the largest drop recorded since Giving USA has been keeping track of America’s donations. Total giving was still estimated to be around 2.2 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)….

‘There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that charitable giving would be down,’ said Del Martin, chair of Giving USA Foundation. ‘However, what we find remarkable is that individuals, corporations and foundations still provided more than $307 billion, despite the economic conditions,’ she said.

‘It would have been easy to say ‘not this year’ when appeals came their way and we definitely did see belt-tightening. This drop in giving meant that nonprofits have had to do more with less over the last year, but it could have been worse,’ she said.

The only subsectors that experienced an increase last year were religion, public society-benefit and international affairs while foundations and human services saw the largest declines:

  • Religion, $106.89 billion, +5.5 percent (1.6 percent inflation adjusted)
  • Education, $40.94 billion, -5.5 percent (-9 percent)
  • Foundation, $32.65 billion, -19.2 percent (-22.2 percent)
  • Human services, $25.88 billion, -12.7 percent (-15.9 percent)
  • Public society benefit, $23.88 billion, +5.4 percent (+1.5 percent)
  • Health, $21.64 billion, -6.5 percent (-10 percent)
  • International affairs, $13.3 billion, +0.6 percent (-3.1 percent)
  • Arts/culture/humanities, $12.79 billion, -6.4 percent (-9.9 percent)
  • Environment/animal, $6.58 billion, -5.5 percent (-9 percent)….

Though education saw a drop, it still accounted for 13 percent of all charitable dollars, second only to religion at 35 percent….

Giving USA’s education subsector includes libraries and reading programs, in addition to higher education and private schools, (John) Lippincott (Vice President, Council for the Advancement and Support for Education) said, but a 5.5-percent drop when higher education has been averaging 7-percent increases would still represent a major decline. A the same time, he said a 5.5-percent dip in this economic environment actually sounds pretty good relative to declines in the stock market and GDP against rising the unemployment rate. ‘While nobody likes to see a decline, on the other hand, if you look at the continued return that fundraising provides to educational organizations, it’s still an incredible good investment,’ Lippincott said.

One encouraging aspect of the report is that giving is estimated to remain at 2.2 percent of GDP, said Elizabeth Boris, director of the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at The Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. ‘We’ve maintained the level of effort,’ for the past 10 years, she said, adding that between 1972 and 1996, giving was estimated to be less than 2 percent of GDP.

‘The dip in individual giving was expected, but the surprise for some will be that foundation giving stayed relatively stable,‘ said Boris….

There is little doubt that 2009 will continue to be a challenging year as well, Lippincott said, but if historical patterns hold — a big if, he concedes — a comeback in giving might be rapid and significant as people retain confidence in the economy and their financial situations.

The annual estimates in Giving USA are based on econometric studies using tax data, government estimates for economic indicators, and information from other research institutions. Sources of data used in the estimates include the Internal Revenue Service, Bureau of Economic Analysis, Foundation Center, Independent Sector, Council for Aid to Education, National Center for Charitable Statistics at the Urban Institute and National Council of Churches of Christ.”
Excerpts by Robin E. Williams

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