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Charitable Giving Set Record in 2020: Report

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What You Need to Know

  • The pandemic, economic crisis and racial justice efforts spurred widespread need, Giving USA Foundation's chair said.
  • Charitable giving grew from three of the four sources of giving in 2020, the report found.
  • The stock market turnaround in the last months of the year increased contributions.

Individuals, bequests, foundations and corporations gave an estimated $471.4 billion to U.S. charities in 2020, Giving USA Foundation reported this week.

Total charitable giving grew by 5.1% measured in current dollars over the revised total of $448.7 billion contributed in 2019. Adjusted for inflation, total giving increased by 3.8%.

Charitable giving set a record in 2020, said Laura MacDonald, chair of Giving USA Foundation and principal and founder of Benefactor Group, in a statement. 

“Unprecedented developments in 2020 including the global pandemic, the ensuing economic crisis, and efforts to advance racial justice created intense, widespread need and significantly increased the demand upon nonprofit organizations,” MacDonald said. 

“Remarkably, generous giving coupled with the stock market turnaround in the final months of the year boosted contributions.” 

Giving USA 2021: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2020 was researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI.  

Charitable Giving by Source

Charitable giving grew from three of the four sources of giving in 2020, according to the report.

Individuals donated an estimated total of $324.1 billion, up 2.2% (1%, adjusted for inflation) from 2019. Giving by individuals achieved its highest total dollar amount to date, but accounted for less than 70% of total giving for the third consecutive year.

Giving by foundations increased by 17% (15.6%) to an estimated $88.6 billion, also reaching its highest-ever dollar amount. Giving by foundations, which has grown in nine of the last 10 years, represented 19% of total giving in 2020.

Donations from bequests, which tend to fluctuate substantially from year to year, amounted to an estimated $41.2 billion in 2020, up 10.3% (9%) from 2019. 

Only giving by corporations fell in 2020, down 6.1% (7.3%) to $16.9 billion. According to the report, this type of giving is highly responsive to changes in corporate pretax profits and GDP, both of which declined in 2020.

Charitable Giving to Recipients

“[Human services organizations] might come to mind first when thinking about giving to meet the needs that arose in 2020,” Josh Birkholz, vice-chair of Giving USA Foundation and chief executive of BWF, a fundraising consultancy, said in the statement. 

“However, nearly every category of charitable organization received gifts for COVID-19 relief and racial justice, which indicates the broad scale of the challenges faced in 2020 — as well as the complexity and responsiveness of the nonprofit sector overall.”

Last year, giving to five of nine categories grew by 9% or more:

  • Public-society benefit organizations: up 15.7% (14.3%) to $48 billion.
  • Environmental and animal organizations: up 11.6% (10.3%) to $16.1 billion.
  • Human services: up 9.7% (8.4%) to $65.1 billion.
  • International affairs: up 9.1% (7.8%) to $25.9 billion.
  • Education: up 9% (7.7%) to $71.3 billion.
  • Foundations: up 2% (0.8%) to $58.2 billion.
  • Religion: up 1% (-0.2%) to $131.1 billion.
  • Health: down 3% (-4.2%) to $42.1 billion.
  • Arts, culture and humanities: down 7.5% (-8.6%) to $19.5 billion.

Giving to individuals grew by an estimated 12.8% (11.5%) between 2019 and 2020, to $16.2 billion. According to the report, most of these donations are in-kind gifts of medications to patients in need, made through the patient assistance programs of pharmaceutical companies’ operating foundations.

Unallocated giving was negative $22.1 billion in 2020. The report said this amount can be considered the difference between giving by source and use in a particular year. 

It includes the difference between itemized deductions by individuals (and households) carried over from previous years. The tax year in which a gift is claimed by the donor (carried over) and the year when the recipient organization reports it as revenue (the year in which it is received) may be different.

(Photo: Shutterstock)