We suspect that our audience already has anecdotal evidence of today’s topic, but the annual report from the GivingUSA Foundation demonstrates that charitable donations are down by 3.6% in 2009 from 2008. “The Chronicle of Philanthropy” has an excellent summary by Holly Hall, who points to the fact that the slide in donations in 2009 actually follows a fall of 2.8% in 2008. On the same day The Chronicle has another story that points out how New York State is making cutbacks to programs to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS. So the Great Recession has certainly eaten into individuals’ abilities to give and states’ abilities to offer services and protections to their constituents. And yet, some silver lining can be seen among these recessionary clouds!
First and foremost, the GivingUSA report shows that though overall giving fell again, the giving by individuals fell less than .04%, which suggests that Americans are willing to give what they can even when times are hard for those very Americans. The biggest falloffs in giving last year were to charitable bequests (down 23.9%) and to foundation grant makers (down 8.9%). According to GivingUSA, the drop in charitable requests reflects, in part, an overestimation of the amount of giving in 2008, and the drop in amounts given to grant makers was actually less than expected, given monthly numbers in the first half of 2009. Perhaps these donors sensed an uptick in the overall economy that got them back to giving in the second half of the year.
Some groups gained, of course. Corporate giving rose by 5.5%, though much of this giving was through in-kind goods, which are not so sensitive to the overall state of the economy. Gains also were made to charities that focus on health and on human services (3.8% and 2.3% respectively). The biggest single gainer was in the field of international affairs/aid, which saw a robust 6.2% growth (and likely reflects the outpouring of support for the peoples of Haiti after their earthquake).
As has been the trend for some years, religious organizations received the greatest percentage of overall donations (33% in 2009) with education coming in a distant second (13%), though well ahead of the next categories. Unfortunately, giving to education fell 3.6% in 2009 whereas giving to religious groups remained steady.
Finally, and perhaps the best news of all (if the trend continues), giving remained above 2% of Gross Domestic Product for the thirteenth year in a row, during which time we have endured The Great Recession (not over) and the dot-com bust at the turn of the millennium. We are still a number of years from the longest stretch of giving above 2% of GDP (1956-1972), so hopefully we can keep up the support for the less fortunate despite the ongoing structural doldrums that plague the US economy. And for those who gave in 2009: thank you so much for your continued support!