Giving is up: What does that mean for fundraising?

By Una Osili, director of research, Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI |

Last year charitable giving from individuals, estates, foundations and corporations hit a record $373 billion, according to Giving USA 2016: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2015.

The years 2014 and 2015 represent the highest and second-highest totals for giving in the past 10 years, adjusted for inflation. But total giving grew more slowly in 2015 — increasing by 4.0 percent adjusted for inflation — compared to the 6.1 percent increase we saw in 2014. The slower rate of growth in 2015 reflected changes in several of the economic factors that influence giving: while most were still positive, their growth was not as robust as in the preceding year.

Still, contributions from all four sources of giving and to all but one of the nine categories of nonprofits receiving those gifts (the exception was giving to foundations) went up in 2015. This suggests that while the giving climate was not quite as strong in 2015, the overall environment for giving remains favorable.

Individuals were responsible for the largest share of giving last year, providing 71 percent of the total, while foundations saw the largest year-over-year percentage growth among the sources of giving, increasing the amount they collectively gave by 6.5 percent.

The longest-running and most comprehensive report of its kind in America, Giving USA is published by Giving USA Foundation, a public-service initiative of The Giving Institute. It is researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

Here’s a closer look:

2015 Charitable Giving by source

  • Individual giving, $264.58 billion, increased 3.8 percent in current dollars over 2014.
  • Foundation giving, $58.46 billion, was 6.5 percent higher.
  • Charitable bequests, $31.76 billion, increased 2.1 percent.
  • Corporate giving, $18.45 billion, grew 3.9 percent.

Highlights of 2015 gifts to selected categories of nonprofits

Five charitable subsectors saw large increases in 2015:

  • Education: giving increased to $57.48 billion, growing 8.9 percent.
  • Public-Society Benefit: the $26.95 billion given in 2015 was an increase of 6.0 percent
  • Arts/Culture/Humanities: at $17.07 billion, growth in current dollars was 7.0 percent
  • International Affairs: $15.75 billion, a jump of 17.5 percent.
  • Environment/Animals: the $10.68 billion estimate for 2015 was up 6.2 percent

While these results are encouraging, though, it’s what nonprofit leaders and fundraisers do with that information that counts. Here are some points to ponder:

  • Put the majority of your effort where the majority of the giving for your type of organization is. The new Giving USA report estimates that 87 percent of giving comes from or is directed by individuals, their bequests and family foundations where family members play a role. Some nonprofits’ missions may be more conducive to corporate or foundation support, but it’s important to have the right mix of funding sources for your organization. Adjust your outreach as necessary.
  • Review historical trends to inform your planning. While, as they say, past performance does not predict future results, what informed assumptions can you make about growth in giving over the next few years after reviewing patterns and trends over time? What might those trends mean for your organization? Do you have a plan to address them? Be sure to look at the trends for your type of organization, as well as for giving overall.
  • Develop a more focused and compelling case for support. Incorporate data and takeaways from Giving USA and other reputable research into your nonprofit’s proposals and communications.
  • Increase your volunteer leaders’ understanding of philanthropy. Show them how your organization’s funding patterns and potential compare to the national picture. Give them additional insight into the latest developments in philanthropy, how those might affect your nonprofit, and what steps you are taking as a result. Sharing this type of information will provide assurance that recommendations and decisions are based on the most accurate data available.

Explore Giving USA products and resources, including free highlights of each annual report, and find key tools to share with your board and donors at our online store. Select the full report, available in both digital and paperback formats, a PowerPoint slide deck, data tables and more.


una Una Osili, Ph.D., is director of research for the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI.


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