News and analysis
June 08, 2010

Charitable Giving Fell 3.2% Last Year, Report Finds

Americans donated more than $303-billion to charity last year, a decline of 3.2 percent, according to estimates released on Wednesday by Giving USA, the annual tally of charitable donations.

That comes after giving dropped 2.4-percent in 2008, during the first full year of the recession, according to the report, which was produced by Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy.

Donations from individuals, who account for three-fourths of all contributions, stayed steady last year at $227.4-billion. That comes after a sharp fall in 2008, when the bad economy caused contributions by individuals to fall by 5.8 percent. However, some scholars and fund raisers say they believe that donations from individuals fell again in 2009.

Other key findings:

• Giving to United Ways, Jewish federations, and other so-called public-society benefit groups dropped the most, declining by 4.2 percent, followed by education, which dropped 3.2 percent. Giving to arts and cultural groups declined by 2 percent, after falling by 10 percent in 2008, and donations to religious organizations fell by 0.3 percent.

• Giving to other types of charities rose by small percentages, the report said. Contributions to social-service, health, and environmental organizations grew a modest 2 to 4 percent in 2009, after declining sharply in 2008. Giving to international organizations grew the most, by 6.6 percent.

• Foundation giving dropped by 8.6 percent, to $38.4-billion. Such donations accounted for 13 percent of all contributions last year.

• Corporations gave $14.1-billion, an increase of 5.9 percent last year. Giving USA speculates that much of the growth was due to an increase in donated products and services rather than cash contributions. Corporate donations accounted for 4 percent of all giving last year.

• Bequests fell by 23.6 percent last year, to $23.8-billion, Giving USA said. An unusually large number of big estates were settled in 2008, the report noted, so the decrease was a bit skewed.

A Shift in Giving

In its analysis of the findings, Giving USA said that certain types of charities faced challenges because of the economy: Colleges and universities and arts groups, for example, which frequently seek gifts for buildings, other capital projects, and endowments, were less likely to get such gifts last year, the report said.

Meanwhile, gifts to private foundations and donor-advised funds, a type of public-society benefit charity that allows individuals to set up personal charitable accounts for future use, also declined in 2009, the report said, largely because such gifts are often made with stock and other assets that suffered in the bad economy.

An executive summary of the new edition of Giving USA is available free online at Reports on information by type of organization, such as arts and health, are available for $8 each on the Web site, and the entire set of data, with additional forthcoming information, is available for $240.