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Remarkable Americans - Charitable Giving on the Rise!

Posted by: Michele Egan Sterne on 6/29/2011

Although the economic news gained some positive momentum in the last year and many economists announced that the recession ended in mid-2009, it's still tough out there. Unemployment remains high, gas and food price surges contribute to inconsistent month-over-month consumer spending and according to a recent Gallup Poll, 55% of Americans describe the U.S. economy as still being in a recession or depression. 

A few days ago, the release of the Giving USA 2011 annual report on charitable giving stated that philanthropic donations from individuals, foundations and corporations increased 3.8% to $290.9 billion in 2010 up from $280.3 billion in 2009. Remarkable. 

The past few years of economic turmoil has forced us all - nonprofits, corporations, government entities, NGO's - to adapt to innovative ways of dealing with the challenging 'new reality'. Yet as Americans we have chosen to continue to give to charity. 2010 giving levels may not be record-breakers, but clearly the volume is substantial and honestly, remarkable. 

Let's look at a couple of key findings reported by Giving USA

Largest Increase Recorded in Giving to International Affairs: 
Largely due to increased awareness of the interconnectedness of global/local economies and from the direct giving to support political and humanitarian crises including the January 2010 massive Haiti earthquake, giving to international affairs grew by 15+% in 2010. 

Remains Roughly the Same = Giving to Religion: 
Historically, as evidenced by the last 56 years of annual reports, giving to religious causes consistently receives the largest piece (approximately 35% in 2010) of the charitable giving pie. In 2010, houses of worship across most denominations experienced a bit of growth, noted as less than 1%. Giving USA doesn't consider moves of this nature - whether positive or negative - as growth or decline, they categorize it as flat. 

Significant Increase Seen in Giving to Arts, Culture and Humanities: 
Often seen as 'nice to have', giving to Arts/Culture/Humanities has experienced repeated drops the past few years likely due to personal choices by donors who re-directed support to basic human needs such as food and shelter. This year's positive rebound in this sub-sector is also somewhat attributed to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC being named the recipient of a $250+ million pledge gift of art, decorative arts and furniture. 

Corporate Giving Rises over 10%: 
In the case of corporate giving, Giving USA Foundation's 10+% estimated increase is derived from the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy's (CECP) Corporate Giving Standard Survey (CGS) conducted in 2011. The CGS methodology on corporate self-reported data is viewed to be especially valuable to corporations for planning purposes, bench-marking giving strategies and for presentations to the C-Suite. According to a footnote in the Giving USA 2011 executive summary, CECP provided a summary of preliminary CGS results and noted that cash and in-kind giving by pharmaceutical companies continues to fuel growth in this sub-sector. 

Giving USA has over five decades of expertise in recording and reporting out data and tracking charitable giving trends. Often times, its in-depth work shows us in great detail what happened, but doesn't really provide many insights as to why something happened. To me, there are lots of questions to be asked. 

Since this post appears in our Cause Marketing FOCUS blog, I wanted to better understand the impact of cause marketing activities in reports such as Giving USA 2011. If any of you have inside information on this subject, I'd like to hear from you. In the meantime, I will reach out to my trusted colleague David H. King, Giving USA Foundation Director, and President, Alexander Haas for more insights. Regardless, charitable giving in 2010 was remarkable. 

More to come.....

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