2% Giving Flat for Forty Years

Blackbaud released a report called Growing Philanthropy in the United States this week. Why do we need to grow philanthropy? Because:

In the U .S ., charitable giving is estimated to be only 2 percent of average household disposable (after tax) income (Giving USA Foundation 2011) . Regrettably, this is also the 40 year average for this figure, indicating that, despite an increasing marketing effort on the part of nonprofits (Sargeant and Jay 2010), individuals today are no more generous than their predecessors were over four decades ago . The picture is very similar in other countries (e .g . National Council for Voluntary Organizations 2010) .

I asked one of the authors, Jen Shang, to clarify how it is that we have so many nonprofits now than forty years ago but giving hasn’t increased. She said, “So the reason why total giving has been rising but not percentage of giving is because total household income has been rising.” In, addition, although Jen said it wasn’t the data they studied, we simply have more households than forty years ago, so giving would go up.

Nonetheless, the notion that after forty years of saturation by nonprofit marketers and the percentage of income we give hasn’t gone up. These data come from the annual report of Giving USA. Here is the total giving pie for 2010:

And now I’m confounded. After all of that running and cookie buying and dinners-gone-to there is no increase? Certainly the number of causes has increased exponentially, but so have the number of people, so maybe that’s a wash. I feel like I’m missing something big here. Are these data not including embedded giving where we feel like we’ve given a donation even if that gift is kept opaque by a corporation? Are we spending more time volunteering instead of writing checks? Are more of us giving the 2% than in previous generations?

Lucy, Katya, Amy, Tom…a little help, please?


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Allison Fine

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