News and analysis
October 29, 2015

America’s Largest Charities Raised 5% More Last Year; Donor-Advised Funds Won Big

Corporation for National and Community Service
United Way remains No. 1 among U.S. nonprofits that raise the most from private sources, but Fidelity Charitable is just a sliver behind.
Groups that solicit and manage donor-advised funds continue to crowd into the upper ranks of America’s biggest charities, according to new Chronicle of Philanthropy data.

The United Way hangs on to the No. 1 spot in the Chronicle’s latest Philanthropy 400, the annual list of the U.S. nonprofits that raise the most in private support. But its hold is tenuous: Only $23.5 million separates it from the next group in line, Fidelity Charitable.

United Way Worldwide and its affiliates raised $3.87 billion in the 2014 fiscal year, representing flat performance — a mere 1.5-percent growth — compared with 2013. Fidelity Charitable, a donor-advised fund manager associated with a financial-services company, gained 3.2 percent in 2014, raising $3.85 billion.

The Philanthropy 400

Philanthropy's past, present, and future are presented together in this year's Philanthropy 400, the 25th edition of our ranking of charities based on the private support they raise.

Three other donor-advised fund managers and another organization — Silicon Valley Community Foundation (No. 5), which relies heavily on such funds — rank in the Top 10.

Winners and Losers

Other big developments this year: Community foundations, public broadcasting, and universities saw their support soar, while other education groups, social services, and arts and culture experienced declines over all. [See "Who’s Up? Who’s Down?"]

Private support for all charities combined in the Philanthropy 400 grew by 5.1 percent in 2014 compared with the previous year, an increase just below that of giving to all charities reported in the most recent "Giving USA" report, which was released in June by the Giving USA Foundation.

The finding that large charities are lagging — rather than performing more strongly, as has usually been the case over the 25 years of The Chronicle’s rankings — may indicate that the recovery from the Great Recession continues to be uneven, says Una Osili, director of research at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, where “Giving USA” was researched and written.

"My immediate reaction to this is that we’re seeing a reflection of larger shifts in philanthropy," including a rebound in big gifts but not necessarily in smaller ones, says Ms. Osili. "We’re also seeing this in higher education, too. Large gifts have increased over time, but participation rates in annual campaigns have started to decline."

Another possibility is that smaller groups may be finding it easier these days to compete for donors due to social media and online giving, she suggests.

Other developments worth watching, especially for fundraisers: an evolving, more diverse donor base and millennials arriving at an age when they will start to give bigger gifts. "For nonprofits," says Ms. Osili, "these changes mean thinking about how best to reach a new segment of the population and working to develop strategies that meet the needs of these donors."

Comparisons Over 25 Years

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Philanthropy 400. The Chronicle found illuminating trends in the survey’s historical data, which has been revised and updated by Williams Suhs Cleveland, a doctoral candidate at Indiana University’s Lilly School. For example, giving to public colleges and universities has increased 151 percent since 1991, compared with the 72-percent jump for private ones. Also, donor-advised funds and community foundations surged from 2 percent of total giving on the Philanthropy 400 in 1991 to 18 percent this year.

Groups like Habitat for Humanity International and the Natural Resources Defense Council, which were among the strongest individual climbers in the rankings during the past 25 years, provide important lessons for charities looking to grow.

For more details, including graphics and an interactive with 25 years’ worth of data on the nation’s largest charities, see this year’s report on the Philanthropy 400.

Correction: A previous version indicated mistakenly that "Giving USA" was released by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. It was released by the Giving USA Foundation.

the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, where “Giving USA” was researched and written

Send an email to Heather Joslyn.