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Charitable Giving Set Record in 2014, Growing 7.1%

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Americans donated an estimated $358 billion to charity in 2014, edging past the 2007 record of $355 billion, Giving USA reported Tuesday.

Charitable donations last year were 7.1% higher in current dollars, and 5.4% when adjusted for inflation, than the revised estimate of $340 billion donated in 2013, the report said.

Giving has now increased five years in a row, on average 5.5% annually in current dollars, or an inflation-adjusted 3.4%.

The new report, which was published by Giving USA Foundation and researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, broke out the four sources of giving in 2014:

  • Individual giving (72% of total): $258.5 billion, 5.7% increase over 2013
  • Foundation giving (15% of total): $54 billion, 8.2% higher than in 2013
  • Bequest giving (8% of total): $28 billion, 15.5% increase over 2013
  • Corporate giving (5% of total): $17.8 billion, 13.7% more than in 2013

Giving USA Foundation chairman W. Keith Curtis noted that growth in charitable giving was across the board, even though criteria used to make decisions about giving differed for each source.

“Individual giving [for example] is affected by available disposable income at the household level, wealth and growth in the S&P 500,” Curtis said in a statement. “All three increased last year as did the amount people spent in general—not just on charitable donations.

“Corporate giving decisions, on the other hand, have historically been driven by changes in pretax profits and GDP. Other factors might be affecting how much they donate; time — and further research — will tell.”

Giving and Receiving

According to the report, several donors made gifts in excess of $200 million last year, including one of nearly $2 billion.

 “The majority of these ‘mega-gifts’ were given by relatively young tech entrepreneurs,” Patrick Rooney, associate dean for academic affairs and research at the Lilly School of Philanthropy, said in the statement.

“These gifts are high-impact and are addressing many critical issues of our time, particularly medical research.”

Giving by community, independent and operating foundations all increased in 2014. Grants by independents, which accounted for 74% of total foundation giving, were 7.8% higher than in 2013.

Last year, eight of the nine categories of charities saw donations increase, according to the report. Giving to religion, education, human services, health, arts/culture/humanities and environment/animals reached record highs when adjusted for inflation.

Public-society benefit and foundations enjoyed increases. “The 2014 growth among eight out of nine types of charitable organizations is good news for the philanthropic sector as a whole,” Curtis said. “The growth can be attributed, in part, to the ways charities have been working smarter during daunting times.

“Nonprofits increasingly are making sure they have strong cases for support, communicate frequently with donors and provide proof of the impact charitable gifts make.”

In addition to the above, $6.4 billion — 2% of the 2014 total — went to individuals, largely through in-kind donations of medicine via patient assistance programs, the report said.

Only international affairs experienced a drop in donations last year. According to Una Osili, director of research at the philanthropy school, this may be because donors are focusing more on domestic causes.

“Additionally, giving to international affairs in 2014 may have been affected by the fact that there was not a major international natural disaster on the scale that we have seen in some recent years, which tends to influence giving to this category,” Osili said.

— Check out 10 More Wealthy Donors Take the Giving Pledge on ThinkAdvisor.