U.S. Charitable Donations Fell in 2008 Yet Still Surpassed $300 Billion for 2nd Year

According to Giving USA 2009, the yearbook on philanthropy released today by the Giving Institute, 2008 charitable giving in the United States totaled $307.65 billion, a decline of 2 percent over the previous year and only the second decline since the Giving USA Foundation began tracking American philanthropy 53 years ago.

Highlights of the Giving USA 2009 study include:

  • Philanthropy constituted 2.2 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (fairly consistent with past years).
  • Religion received the largest share of contributions in 2008 (35 percent), and giving to religion increased 5.5 percent (in current dollars).
  • Giving to public-society benefit organizations rose 5.4 percent. This sector includes a range of organization types along with groups engaged in voter registration, which were particularly active in 2008.
  • Giving to international affairs organizations rose 0.6 percent, continuing a recent upward trend but slowing considerably from the 16.1 percent increase recorded in 2007.
  • Contributions to all other sectors fell, with the largest decline (12.7 percent) in human services. At the same time, 54 percent of human service organizations saw an increase in the demand for their services.
  • Individuals remained the largest source of contributions, accounting for 75 percent of all charitable giving in 2008 and 88 percent when factoring in family foundation and bequest giving.
  • Foundation grant-making increased 3 percent (in current dollars), although giving from all other types of donors declined. Foundation grants accounted for more than 13 percent of total charitable giving. The Foundation Center estimates that grant-making in 2008 surpassed all prior records.
  • Giving from corporations, which includes corporate foundations, fell 4.5 percent, the largest decline of all types of donors.

Giving USA’s estimates are based on tax data, government estimates and information from other research institutions. The report is considered the seminal publication on philanthropy in America and has documented trends in charitable contributions for more than 50 years.

Giving USA is a publication of Giving USA Foundation, researched and written by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.