Giving Trends – 40 Years of Increasing Donations

Giving in the United States hit an all-time high in 2017.

This continues an upward trend that’s been developing over the past 40 years, according to Giving USA 2018, Giving USA’s Annual Report on Philanthropy for 2017.

With a few exceptions during hard-hit recession years, Americans have increased their charitable donations nearly every year since 1977.

Steady Increase in Giving

Americans contributed $410.02 billion in charitable donations in 2017, a 3.0% increase over 2016 when adjusted for inflation. The annualized average rate of change since 1977 is 2.7% when adjusted for inflation, representing a steady increase in giving over the past four decades.

There have been a few dips in this giving trend. Eight times over the past 40 years giving has decreased, with the sharpest decline during the Great Recession (2007-2009). Most of the time, however, giving has been on the rise. In fact, since 2009 charitable contributions have grown a total of 30.6% in inflation-adjusted dollars.

New Records Set

In 2017, giving by individuals, foundations and corporations matched or exceeded previous inflation-adjusted highs. Giving by bequest, however, hit its highest peak in 2015.

This growth in giving translated into growth for recipients as well. Except for two, all charitable subsectors matched or exceeded their previous highs. Contributions to international affairs and to individuals in 2017 were below previous records.

Proportions of Giving Have Shifted Over the Years

While charitable giving has increased for all types of donors over the past four decades, there’s been a shift in their share of the contributions. In the five-year period starting in 1977, individuals contributed 83% of charitable donations. Since then, individual giving as a percentage of the total has declined to 71%. Giving by foundations is up from 5% in that first five-year period to 16% in the most recent five-year period. Giving by bequests has gone up from 7% of total giving to 9%. Corporation giving started at 5% of total giving, increased to 6% for about 15 years, then returned to 5%.

Two-Year Growth

By Source –

Taking a closer look at the last two years, total charitable giving continues to be on the rise, while some donor types have experienced slower growth. Between 2015 and 2016, total charitable giving increased 2.3%, whereas between 2016 and 2017, giving increased 3.0% in inflation-adjusted dollars. Giving by individuals and giving by corporations both saw greater growth between 2016 and 2017 compared to the previous period. Foundations saw slower growth, moving from 8.8% between 2015 and 2016 to 3.8% between 2016 and 2017. Giving by bequest dropped 3.3% between 2015 and 2016 and only regained 0.2% between 2016 and 2017.

By Recipient –

Of all the charitable subsectors, foundations saw the most growth at 13.1% between 2016 and 2017. Education, human services, health, public-society benefit organizations, arts/culture/humanities, and environment/animal organizations also all saw greater growth between 2016 and 2017. Religion saw less growth in that period, while contributions to international affairs declined.

What Does All This Mean to You?

As you plan your fundraising strategies for the coming year and beyond, keep in mind these giving trends. Where do the donations come from in your organization? Does your nonprofit reflect these trends? Why or why not? Do you need to adjust your strategy to capture more donation dollars? Where do you invest your time and energy to attract more donors?
We’d love to hear your insights into how current giving trends affect your nonprofit. What actions are you taking? How does all this affect your strategy?

One Response to “Giving Trends – 40 Years of Increasing Donations”

  1. Adjusting our strategy to capture more donation dollars is something all charities should be doing in my opinion. We figure out what works by trying new ideas. Sometimes we are pleasantly surprised by the outcome and sometimes its a lesson learned. “You can’t win if you don’t play.” I enjoy reading your blog, Jill. Keep up the good work.


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