New Data Questions Accuracy of Giving USA

Just two months before Giving USA releases their analysis of 2010 giving, controversy continues to swirl around the 2009 figures and Giving USA’s long-time methodology.

Based on recently released data from the Internal Revenue Service, and reported in The Chronicle of Philanthropy (Americans Gave a Lot Less in the Recession Than Experts Predicted), “In 2008 Americans wrote off $172.9-billion in charitable contributions, a 10.6-percent drop from 2007. Its estimates for 2009, released this month, project a 14-percent drop, to $148.6-billion.

To be sure, the IRS number for 2009 charitable donations is not yet final because the agency is still tallying how much taxpayers itemized on their returns, and its preliminary figures are often under the actual amount by $8-billion or more. Assuming that happens again, the final tally will still show a decline of more than 9 percent in 2009.”

The Chronicle goes on to say, “One reason it was unclear how badly nonprofits were hurt in the downturn is that “Giving USA,” an annual estimate of philanthropy that many fund raisers use to benchmark their results, told a very different story about how individual donors responded to the recession. So did projections by other scholars of giving.

Giving by individuals dropped by 2.4 percent in 2008, it said, and didn’t decrease at all in 2009.

… Researchers at Indiana University Center on Philanthropy who compile “Giving USA” defend the accuracy of their estimates.

The annual change in contributions from individuals, they note, has historically been within 2 percentage points of the change in itemized contributions eventually reported by the IRS for any given year.

But given the severity of the recession, “we made a commitment to re-evaluate our model,” said Patrick Rooney, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy.”

Giving USA’s analysis of 2010 will be released on June 20th; and while it will receive significant coverage, it will likely produce more than the usual amount of naysayers.