The holidays and year-end tax considerations make this the season of giving. And there are indications Americans will be more generous than ever.
In 2015, Americans donated a record $373.25 billion in charitable contributions, up a little more than 4 percent from the year before, according to Giving USA, the most reliable chronicler of philanthropy.
More than seven in 10 donations were made by individuals, and about 15 percent came from foundations; corporations and bequests accounted for the rest. A little less than a third went to religious entities, with about 15 percent for education. Services for the poor, such as food banks, homeless shelters and legal assistance, got a little less than 12 percent.
Looking beyond this year, there is a divide about where giving is headed, particularly because of recent political changes.
Optimists say that if President-elect Donald Trump makes good on his vow to expand the economy at 4 percent — doubling the current rate of growth — the result will be added income and wealth, which translates to more giving. Most independent economic experts doubt he’ll achieve that pace.
Giving should also be helped if the Republicans engineer huge tax cuts, primarily for the wealthy — which is likely — because the richest are responsible for a growing percentage of charitable contributions. Yet a recession in the next couple years, which historical economic cycles would suggest is likely, would offset any gains.
Moreover, these big tax cuts will also bring significant cutbacks in assistance to the poor, making the need for charitable assistance greater.
Income inequality, not surprisingly, affects giving. The left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies recently issued a recent report entitled “Gilded Giving.” Based on reliable data, giving is up considerably among wealthier citizens — a good thing — but is declining among average citizens, those making less than $100,000 a year, who give, proportionally, a larger share of the donations to the poor.