Giving USA report reveals surprises in how Americans gave in 2016


Americans gave more than $390 billion to U.S. charities in 2016, according the the annual Giving USA report, which was published in June. While that number marks an incremental growth in overall giving, which occurs almost every year, the report still held a number of surprises for donors and nonprofits alike.

Click here to see a larger version of the infographic.

The Giving USA report is used by nonprofits across the country to help identify trends and reveal truisms about where America’s charitable dollars come from and go. For example, year after year the report reveals that the vast majority of dollars come from individuals rather than foundations or corporations. In 2016, 72 percent of the money given to charities came from individuals, a 4 percent uptick from 2015 and a much larger percentage than foundations, which account for 15 percent, or corporations, which account for 5 percent. The remaining 8 percent of donations came from bequests.

Yet that fact often comes as a surprise, even to nonprofits, says Victoria Corcoran of the fundraising agency Corcoran & Co. “Some nonprofits think that the way to raise money would be from a meeting with Michael Dell or applying to that big foundation,” said Corcoran, “but when they really look at who the donors really are, they’ll see that they’re individuals and they can create a strategy around that.”

“Small gifts from individuals do matter,” said Lisa Rodman of Rodman & Associates, a group of philanthropic advisors. She notes that giving was up for individuals as well as for foundations and corporations, and that all nine categories of charities saw an increase in donations. “I think the political season had a lot of do with it. People felt like their personal causes may be under threat from both sides. So they just stepped up.” She noted that organizations like Planned Parenthood, and the American Civil Liberties Union and others each saw an uptick in donations, motivated by funding threats from the government.

Adam Hauser, president of Meals on Wheels Central Texas, says his organization did see a slight increase in individual giving between its fiscal years or 2015 and 2016, but that it’s still not enough to meet demand for its services. In fact, he says, the human services category did not see as much of an increase as other charity categories, according to the report.

“It’s too early for us to tell whether the current political climate has had an effect on our donations,” said Hauser. “But our agency, just like thousands of other Meals on Wheels organizations across the country, still faces the possibility of losing federal funding if Congress approves the White House’s proposed budget.”

Among the nine charity categories, environmental and conservation causes, the arts, and international aid were the biggest draws for donors in 2016. While many of those causes were threatened by government funding policies that year, Brent Lyles of the Colorado River Alliance said he doesn’t think politics really played a role.

“Our supporters come from across the political spectrum,” said Lyles. “If anything, I think many people are burned out on the fighting and divisiveness of politics.”

I think the growth in giving to conservation nonprofits reflects Texans’ growing concern about these issues — the threat of more severe and more frequent floods and droughts, for instance. We can’t address these challenges unless we understand them, and that’s why education and engagement programs are so important. That’s what people want to invest in.”

NOTE: A version of this article was also published in the Austin American-Statesman on July 16, 2017.

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