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What You Need To Know about the New 2014 Giving USA Report

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Infographic courtesy of The Benefactor Group
Download the full infographic here:

Hurray! Charitable giving in the US is almost back up to pre-recession levels!

Mid-June is always an important time every year when the Giving USA Report comes out. Giving USA is researched and written by the widely respected Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

The report gives us a good sense of how well charitable giving is doing in the US and which sectors are faring well – or poorly.

Boy, has it been a long slow slog out of the Great Recession and the exodus of so many of our donors – and their dollars.

We are not quite all the way back, but the data folks are predicting that we will surpass our former pre-recession giving peak in a year or two if current trends continue. Yay!

By the way, some of your board members may have seen the NBC News report headline on Giving USA:  “Charitable Giving Hits a Record High.”

I’d like to respectfully disagree with that headline. The Giving USA Report says we have NOT yet reached our pre-recession high which was 349.5 billion. Total gifts last year, gifts tracked by this report were $335 billion – below the pre-recession peak. (So we are almost there!)

Infographic courtesy of The Benefactor Group Download the full infographic here:

Infographic courtesy of The Benefactor Group
Download the full infographic here:

The key facts that you need to know about the new Giving USA Report:

You may know that I really like question and answer formats – try this format and have your board do a guessing game – and give a prize to the person who gets closest to each answer!

How much did foundations, corporations and individuals give last year in the US?

$335 Billion = total giving in the US from foundations, corporations and individuals.

How much did charitable giving increase between 2012 and 2013?

4.4% – Overall giving from all sources increased by this amount.

How much did individuals give through gifts and bequests?

80% of all overall contributions came from individual gifts and bequests.
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in 2013, what % of gifts came from individual donors? Corporate donors? Foundation donors?

Individual gifts were 72% of the total.

Corporate gifts were 5%.

Foundation gifts were 15%.

Bequests were 8%.

How about corporate gifts? Were they up or down?

Corporate gifts were down 1.9%. But last year they were up over 19%.

Just remember that after the recession, many corporations shifted their giving to in-kind. According to a podcast I listened to yesterday, around 60% of corporate gifts these days are in-kind.

Source Giving USA and great NPEngage article

Source Giving USA and great NPEngage article

What’s the trend with foundation gifts?

Overall giving TO foundations was down significantly this year by 15.5%.

But gifts FROM foundations were up by 5.7%. (yes this is confusing!)

But remember foundation gifts still make up only 15% of all charitable giving.

Which sub sectors of the nonprofit arena fared well last year?

Health care and education were the big winners last year – seeing solid increases over 2012. Why? These nonprofits make heavy investments in their fundraising programs, and therefore they raise tons more money.

Giving to the arts, health care, the environment and education continues to rise consistently over the past few years. As a former ballet dancer, I’m happy to see that giving to the arts, culture and humanities grew by 7.8%.

Which sub sectors received less support in the past year?

Gifts to religious causes were flat. Also international giving decreased by 6.7%.


Be optimistic and ride the tide!

Where did all the money go last year? Source GivingUSA and AFP

Where did all the money go last year? Source GivingUSA and AFP

Giving is going nowhere but up. Are your fundraising strategies up to speed? Remember fundraising is well researched and professionalized these days.

Some strategies are not working as well as in the past. Be sure you are smart, efficient and that you know how to talk to your donor correctly.

How important is the role of individuals?

Yet again we see that – on the whole – most gifts come from individuals.  Corporate, government and foundation support just won’t cut it for your organization.

Do you have a major donor program? Do you have a great donor thank you program? Are you sending loving messages out to your donors telling them how wonderful they are?

How about the role of the economy and stock market?

All philanthropy is dependent on the overall economy.

As personal income rises, the unemployment rate goes down, personal disposable income and consumer confidence all go up – giving of course follows these positive trends. 

Charitable giving always tends to lag after the stock market. When the market goes down, it takes a while for giving to go down. And when the market turns around and goes up, giving will also go up but not as quickly.

Infographic showing where the money really goes (religious causes get a huge share!)

Infographic showing where the money really goes (religious causes get a huge share!)

What role do wealthy individuals play?

The increase in giving mostly came from very large multimillion dollar gifts and bequests from the very wealthy.  There were several mega gifts from wealthy donors of $80 million and more, helping to boost the overall numbers.

Don’t despair! Most mega gifts are given locally. Your potential transformational gift may be right under your nose.

As wealth in the US continues to be concentrated more and more in the top 1%, your major gift program needs to be targeted carefully on wealthy individuals. (This is not new news!)

How’s broad based giving doing?

What we call broad based giving has not recovered so robustly.  And mega gifts still tend to favor the huge prestigious institutions.

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Infographic courtesy of The Benefactor Group
Download the full infographic here:

All the more reason to focus on your OWN major gifts program. That is what will save your bottom line – and the people you serve.

Bequests are a huge sleeper for you!

Bequests are the sleeper fundraising strategy. Too many organizations overly complicate planned giving.

Just talk about bequests in all your materials. Just a little mention at the bottom of the page. Nudge your loyal donors in that directly.

Do you know who your most likely bequest donor is? It’s the person who is contributing consistently over a decade or two.

Their gifts may be as small as $20 a year – but you are in their heart and probably in their will.


Focus on the wealthy. Focus on individuals. Create a donor retention task force to “love on” your current donors.

Sharpen up your fundraising strategies and most importantly your language. Revitalize your major gifts program.

And you’ll ride the tide as the world economy continues to improve!

Leave me a comment!


  • Megan

    Thank you for this wrap-up, Gail! I always appreciate these synopses as they are easy to share with fellow staff, board, etc. Happy summer!

  • Andy Robinson

    Hi Gail — I am always a little nervous about “focusing on the wealthy,” to use your words. Many of my clients would consider $1,000 or $5,000 or $10,000 to be “major gifts.” And gifts of that size are given by a pretty board demographic group. ($1,000/year = $84/month, which is less than most people are paying for cable or satellite TV.) When we give advice about focusing on the wealthy, we tend to exclude a lot of potential donors and also distance our board members, who will collectively moan, “We don’t know anyone who has money!”

    So I humbly suggest that we need a different way of talking about major gifts fundraising that is relevant for grassroots organizations (90% of nonprofits?) that are unlikely to get mega-gifts and can successfully thrive without them, if they do a good job with those $500 and $5,000 donors.

  • Wow Andy, you make a good point. I didn’t realize that 90% of nonprofits are so very small.
    I think smaller grassroots organizations always need to search out their top level donors and focus closely on them. Now, those top level donors may be giving at the $1k or $5k level, and which would be a major gift to an organization with a budget of only 100k.
    So the strategy of focusing on the few at the top and slathering attention on these wonderful people holds true no matter what the size of the organization.
    Thanks and best to you!