News and analysis
October 29, 2009

America's Top Charities Face Tough Fund-Raising Year

The United Way ranked No. 1 on the Chronicle's annual Philanthropy 400 list.

Bruised by the deepest recession in decades, the nation's most-successful fund-raising organizations anticipate that giving will decline this year by a median of 9 percent, according to a new survey by The Chronicle of Philanthropy. That would mean that half of the charities in the survey expect an even steeper drop.

The Chronicle conducted its survey to determine the 400 organizations that raise the most money from private sources.

The fund-raising outlook for those organizations in 2010 is not much better. Nonprofit officials say they are hopeful that the stock market's climb will prompt donors to give more, but they fear that foundations and corporations might cut back further. For the most part, they are setting their budgets conservatively, often hoping to raise just 1 or 2 percent more than they did in 2009.

In response, the push to be more aggressive in seeking donations continues. Colleges and other nonprofit organizations are stepping up their efforts to solicit individuals, trying to explain more clearly why they need money, focusing on donors who have stopped giving, experimenting with new methods of online fund raising, and putting more time and effort into securing planned gifts.

Charities are also reorganizing their fund-raising departments, sometimes because they have been forced to lay off employees. They are encouraging fund raisers to share responsibilities and work more closely with people in different departments.

Decline of 1%

The forecast for 2009 and beyond comes after a year in which donations to the 400 top fund-raising groups rose by 1 percent last year when adjusted for inflation, to $76.2-billion, according to the Chronicle survey.

The country's biggest and most sophisticated fund-raising operations were not as badly hit by the recession as smaller charities. Giving USA's annual survey, which tracks gifts to groups of all sizes, found that overall charitable giving dropped by 5.7 percent in 2008.

But the picture for big groups was still grim. For only the third year in the survey's 19-year history, the minimum amount to qualify for The Chronicle's list dropped, to $47.6-million from $51.5-million in 2007, adjusted for inflation.

The recession years of 2001 and 2002 were the only other times in which the cutoff fell since The Chronicle started the survey.

Following are the 10 organizations that raised the most last year, according to the The Chronicle of Philanthropy:

1. United Way Worldwide ($4,023,362,895 raised from private sources.)

2. Salvation Army ($1,876,674,000)

3. Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund ($1,594,934,259)

4. Food for the Poor ($1,487,362,884)

5. Feed the Children ($1,178,127,048)

6. Brother's Brother Foundation ($1,083,747,241)

7. AmeriCares Foundation ($1,011,003,360)

8. American Cancer Society ($1,008,462,000)

9. YMCA ($935,186,000)

10. Schwab Charitable Fund ($886,791,404)

Subscribers to The Chronicle of Philanthropy have access to a searchable database of all 400 charities on the list, and a vast array of other statistical data garnered from the top groups. In addition, they will find trend information and analysis about how America's biggest charities are conducting their fund raising. Go to for a full listing of all the information available.