‘Giving USA 2018’: Inside the Numbers

Today we welcome back a special guest on the blog: Stelter’s Senior Technical Consultant, Lynn Gaumer, J.D. Lynn returns to give us her analysis on Giving USA’s 2018 numbers. 

Why Now Is the Time to Market Planned Giving

Between individual donations, corporate donations, bequests and foundation giving, Americans gave a record $410.02 billion in 2017. This equates to a little more than $1.12 billion per day, the largest in Giving USA’s 60-plus years of tracking charitable activity. If you haven’t yet made your case for a planned giving program, now is the time.

The Giving USA report shows individual giving increased 5.2 percent and totaled $286.65 billion—an all-time high. When combining the individual and bequest numbers, individuals contributed almost 80 percent of all dollars given to charity in 2017. If we include family foundation giving, individual philanthropy accounted for almost 87 percent of all dollars given in 2017.

Get the Report

To learn more about the sources and uses of charitable donations this past year, download the free “Giving USA 2018 Highlights.” You can see the numbers with Giving USA’s infographic below.

Giving USA InfographicWho Is Giving?

  • Individuals continue to be the backbone of charitable giving. They were responsible for 70 percent or $286.65 billion of all charitable giving (increase of 5.2 percent).
  • Foundations contributed 16 percent or $66.90 billion (increase of 6.0 percent).
  • Bequests totaled 9 percent or $35.70 billion (increase of 2.3 percent).
  • Corporations contributed 5 percent or $20.77 billion (increase of 8.0 percent).

Individuals continue to be the backbone of charitable giving—but with fewer donors. Wendy McGrady, executive vice president of The Curtis Group, was also involved with the report—co-chairing the Giving USA Editorial Review Board. She noted, “It is actually the high net worth donors, who compose only 5 percent of all giving households, who are giving 50 percent of all individual giving.” These high net worth individuals are using more sophisticated vehicles such as private foundations, donor advised funds and appreciated assets to complete their giving.

The increased giving by foundations shows a trend that donors are setting aside money to make gifts at a later point in time.

Bequest giving rebounded after a significant decline last year. One of the largest givers came from the estate of Herbert Irving, co-founder and former vice chairman of Sysco Corporation, the nation’s largest food distributor. Bequest giving tends to fluctuate from year to year based on the estates of high net worth donors and is less influenced by economic factors. You should continue to promote bequests, as an estimated nine out of ten planned gifts will be charitable bequests.*

Corporate giving showed the largest growth primarily due to a response to domestic natural disasters such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. This included approximately $405 million in disaster relief. Major contributions came from Dell, Coca Cola, Amgen—a biotechnology company, Walmart and Verizon.

Breakdown of Contributions by Recipient Organizations in 2017**

  • Religion 31%
  • Education 14%
  • Human Services 12%
  • Foundations 11%
  • Health 9%
  • Public-Society Benefit 7%
  • International Affairs 6%
  • Arts, Culture and Humanities 5%
  • Environmental/Animals 3%
  • Gifts to Individuals 2%

The percentages in these categories are very close, if not identical, to last year. This shows a normalized pattern of giving.

Other Key Findings

  • Giving rose by all four donor types—individuals, foundations, bequests and corporations.
  • Giving to foundations experienced the largest growth at 15.5 percent. This subsector also had the strongest two-year growth rate. This was spurred by two very large gifts by Michael and Susan Dell, and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, to their private foundations.
  • Charitable contributions rose for eight of the nine major types of charitable organizations.
  • International affairs declined after several years of steady growth. This was most likely due to donors giving to a string of domestic natural disasters such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria rather than abroad.
  • Giving to public-society benefit increased for the eighth consecutive year. This reflects the growing popularity of donor advised funds.
  • Giving to religion increased for the seventh consecutive year. Although religion has experienced growth in recent years, it has grown more slowly compared to other categories.
  • Giving to arts, culture and the humanities increased for the sixth consecutive year. Donors tend to give more to this subsector in a strong economy. Donors tend to give more to needs-based organizations in a down economy.

What Does It Mean?

Economic indicators such as the S&P 500, Gross Domestic Product, personal income, consumption and expenditures along with corporate pre-tax profits all helped drive charitable giving in 2017. “The increase in giving in 2017 was generated in part by increases in the stock market, as evidenced by the nearly 20 percent growth in the S&P 500. Investment returns funded multiple very large gifts, most of which were given by individuals to their foundations, including two gifts of $1 billion or more,” Amir Pasic, dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, said in a news release. “This tells us that some of our most fortunate citizens are using their wealth to make some significant contributions to the common good.”

The economic climate helped motivate giving. This trend may continue into 2018. As a result, make sure you are promoting gifts of appreciated assets—such as gifts of securities and real estate—in your marketing materials.

Kick It Off

These “Giving USA 2018” numbers show that planned giving is a critical component of your fundraising efforts. If your organization does not have a planned giving program, use this latest data to garner support from your board of directors. If you are in the process of growing your planned giving program, contact your Stelter team to learn how you can better engage and inspire your donors to support your mission.

Want to Stand Out?

What will make your organization stand out from the other 1.8 million nonprofits? Contact Stelter for your comprehensive gift planning solutions.



*2011 Blackbaud Prospect Research for Planned Gifts

**The Giving USA Foundation

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