U.S. Giving in 2009 Exceeds $300 billion, Reflecting Strong Support for Non-Profits

by Robert I. Evans and Avrum D. Lapin

The Giving Institute and the Giving USA Foundation today announced actual results of charitable giving in 2009, a report that will undoubtedly attract significant media and other attention in the coming weeks. The report reflects stronger-than-predicted results for non-profits across the United States in 2009, with final estimates of $303 billion . . . making 2009 the third consecutive year showing giving in excess of $300 billion!

The report shows that nationally giving remained strong and the generosity of many donors continued at high levels – especially during troubling economic times. Giving USA 2010, published by Giving USA Foundation and researched at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, provides the most comprehensive overview of philanthropic giving and is considered THE source for trends in giving.

This report reveals that with total giving at $303.75 billion in 2009, there was a minimal decrease of 3.6% from giving in 2008. While giving declined only a bit from 2008 and 2007 (the two best giving years ever) it is a significant accomplishment by the American people who continued to give during difficult times.

Highlights of the announcement:

  • individual giving fell only 4%
  • charitable bequests fell 23.9%, a very significant decline
  • foundation grant making fell 8.95%
  • corporate giving increased by 5.5%

For more than 55 years, Giving USA has presented an array of intriguing statistics and philanthropic trends, all of which have been considered invaluable in enabling non-profits and donors alike the opportunity to re-evaluate important priorities.

As the economy began to suffer in 2008, we saw very apparent shifts in the directions of charitable giving. Certain sectors reflected broader priorities to donors, like human services, while others fell further on the list of donor preferences. In 2009, donors clearly wanted to help those in need and see the somewhat immediate impact of their efforts. The sectors that saw declines in giving were the arts organizations (2%), education organizations (3.6%), grant making to foundations (8%), and public-society benefit organizations (4.6%), including umbrella campaigns and donor advised funds.

For the first time, we saw a minimal decline of 0.7% in giving to faith based causes, though giving to religion still represents the largest share of all giving at 33% of the giving pie ($100.95 billion).

The sectors that experienced growth were human services with an increase of 2.3%, representing $27.08 billion, as well as the health sector at 3.8%. International aid also saw increases at 6.2%. Giving USA introduced a special category in 2008 to reflect gifts to individuals, primarily from pharmaceutical firms for medications for patients. Giving to this sector remained stable from 2008, yet only represents 1% of the giving total.

As you look at these impressive statistics, non-profit leaders and donors should wonder what implications may be derived and how the Jewish world can extrapolate ideas about planning for the balance of 2010 and beyond.

Based on the information provided in Giving USA 2010, along with historical findings, we believe that giving in 2010 will continue to recover slowly in both the U.S. and world economies. Giving will possibly lag behind recovery and should eventually return to pre-recession levels; however this may not happen for 3-5 more years.

As we evaluate the Giving USA report, we see some critical strategic thinking that non-profit leaders need to embrace immediately:

  • Bequests will continue to decrease as they did in 2009 as the U.S. death rate has also declined. This does not mean that planned giving should be put on hold. It is critical to integrate planned giving into every campaign program at every non-profit.
  • Donor fatigue may be real and present as donors that stretched in 2008 and 2009 are really feeling the effects in 2010. Be conscious of donor fatigue but do not let it prevent your non-profit from cultivating donors. The organizations that had direct communication with donors throughout the past year were those that were moderately successful at fundraising. Those that suffered in the tough economy but continued to steward their donors have been able to regain strength in 2010. Even if they struggled they made an investment in their future by keeping their donors connected and informed.
  • Social media and giving online receives significant attention, but it actually represents a very small component of all giving. Remember this is also an investment in the future as social media does not necessarily generate quick dollars; rather it builds a network of friends and encourages individuals to get involved and ultimately provide support.

And what does this all mean specifically for non-profits in the Jewish community?

To synagogues, we note that giving to religion fell only slightly, which means that many Jewish congregations saw some adjustments in giving. Rethink and re-engage your fundraising efforts! Congregations need to continue to move forward with fundraising plans, re-invigorating endowment and capital campaigns and placing strong emphasis on testamentary giving.

Jewish Federations, which are represented in the public-society benefit category, saw declines last year. These organizations will need to openly communicate why they remain important in the philanthropic marketplace and to demonstrate how they can make direct impact on those in need.

International giving, which represents giving to Israel-focused “American Friends” organizations, saw increases in 2009. Many Israel-focused organizations did experience some difficulties in the past year, though those with determination who continued to steward donors remained strong and will continue to grow their strength and presence. These organizations need to keep being aggressive as they look to engage new donors.

The arts and culture sector has historically been an area of interest for many Jewish donors. This sector saw decreases which leads us to believe that Jewish donors – like non-Jewish donors – are directing charitable dollars elsewhere but they have not forsaken the arts world. As the economy returns to health, giving in this sector will rebound with it.

As we look forward to the second half of 2010 and beyond, we feel strongly that the charitable giving levels seen in 2007, 2008, and 2009 will continue to be strong. All non-profits need to be confident in their abilities to move forward, attracting new donor support and retaining those friends who have helped as they have adapted to the “new normal” paradigm of the fundraising world.

We highly recommend getting Giving USA 2010 as it is an important resource for all non-profit leaders to review and to learn from. For the first time, a free executive summary of GUSA is available on-line. If you would like to discuss the results of this report in greater detail and strategize how these findings can be used to improve the fundraising program at the non-profit you are affiliated with, we welcome the opportunity to speak with you.

Robert I. Evans, Managing Director, and Avrum D. Lapin, Director, are principals of The EHL Consulting Group, of suburban Philadelphia, and are frequent contributors to eJewishPhilanthropy.com. As a member firm of The Giving Institute, EHL Consulting supports the research and commentary of Giving USA through financial support and professional involvement. For a more in-depth analysis of the GUSA report, you can contact the authors.

images: courtesy Giving Foundation (click on image for larger view)

For more on Giving USA  2010, read Perspective is Everything.