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Giving USA Shows Mixed Findings for Charitable Giving in 2018


The latest estimates on charitable giving from Giving USA show that individuals, foundations and corporations gave more than $427 billion to U.S. nonprofits in 2018. Giving by individuals accounted for 68 percent of the total ($292 billion), giving by foundations came in at 18 percent ($76 billion), corporations gave around 5 percent ($20 billion), and gifts by bequest made up about 9 percent ($40 billion). 

Depending on how overall giving is calculated, 2018 saw either a slight increase (0.7 percent) from the prior year when measured in current dollars or a small decline (-1.7 percent) if adjusted for inflation. This ambiguity reflects the complex factors affecting charitable giving last year, not the least of which were the tax changes taking effect as a result of the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in late 2017. 

Growth in total giving essentially remained flat as increases in giving by foundations and corporations made up for the decline in individual contributions. Giving by foundations was at an all-time high, totaling $75.9 billion and accounting for its largest share of overall giving to date. This was a 7.3 percent increase over foundation giving in 2017, or a 4.7 percent increase when adjusted for inflation. Giving by individuals, on the other hand, fell by 3.4 percent when adjusted for inflation. The share of overall giving from individuals fell to 68.3 percent, down from around 70 percent in 2017. 

This decline follows a longer-term trend in which the share of giving from individuals has fallen from around 83 percent in the late 1970s. The dip in individual giving could also be attributed to more recent developments, however. 

Some have cited the raising of the standard deduction and the accompanying reduction in itemizers through changes in the tax code as one impetus; others have pointed to the volatility in the stock market in late 2017. Still, the relatively positive economic environment during most of 2018 would typically suggest an increase in individual giving, so these findings raise some concerns about the outlook for individual giving in the years to come. Since changes to the tax code didn’t go into effect until 2018, we may need to wait and see what the data shows for 2019 before beginning to draw any major conclusions.

Some long-term trends were also evident in the breakdown of giving by recipient type. Last year marked the first time that the share of overall giving dedicated to religious organizations dipped below 30 percent. Giving to religion has fallen steadily over the course of time, going from 53 percent of total giving in 1985 to 29 percent in 2018. During a webinar discussing the report,Patrick M. Rooney, Ph.D., executive associate dean for academic programs at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, cited generational shifts and decline in attendance at houses of worship as the likely reason behind this decline. 

Source: Giving USA is Giving USA 2019: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2018, a publication of Giving USA Foundation, 2019, researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Available online at www.givingusa.org.

Additional coverage:

Stephen Sherman is SECF's research and data manager.

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