THE BLOG
06/16/2015 12:05 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Making A Difference: The World of Giving - US Charitable Giving Surpasses All Past Records in 2014

It feels like 2007...at least in the nonprofit world as that was the height of the philanthropic contribution levels. And yes, seven (7) years after the devastating recession, charitable donation levels have exceeded the banner year of 2007 for the first time. This means Americans donated more money in 2014 than any other time in history thus returning to pre-recession levels!

For the calendar year 2014, the just-released numbers indicate that contributions from individuals, corporations, foundations, and bequests totaled $358.38 billion.

Annually, for the past 60 years, the Giving USA Foundation and its partner, the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, have conducted research and today released their annual report on philanthropy and philanthropic giving patterns in the United States. The results and news for 2014 is that it was a fantastic year throughout the nonprofit sector. 2015-06-15-1434389524-8079968-GivingUSA.png 2015-06-15-1434389604-2434400-TheCenteronPhilanthropy.jpg

In hitting the pause button to make an observation, it is important to note that when the tracking of charitable donations began 60 years ago in 1955, philanthropic dollars were calculated at $7.14 billion or in today's dollars, $63.13 billion. Again, compare that with the numbers released today and one would definitely say the sector has grown exponentially.

And as has been the pattern for the past 60 years, individuals - people like you and me - account for more than 80% of all the donations (including bequests). Yes - people, not corporations or foundations, contribute the most dollars to charitable endeavors.

Some people reading this blog will ask how they can make a difference assuming it is only the ultra-wealthy that are capable and willing to make gifts to charity. Countering this contention I would share that past studies have indicated that half of all charitable donations made annually are from individuals with household incomes under $100,000. Frequently I remind people that Americans, even in tough economic times, continue to give with neighbors still helping neighbors as well as family and friends looking out for each other. All of these folks believe they can and should be Making a Difference®. Americans believe and in many cases know, they have the opportunity to change things through their involvement in the nonprofit sector. And yes, you are able to affect change by making a donation of any size. One only has to remember the story from 20 years ago about the washer woman, Osceola McCarthy, to see how anyone can affect change. Osceola's story is that she was forced to drop out of school after the sixth grade. She did menial work her entire life charging a small amount to wash and clean other people's clothes as her mother and grandmother had done. But in addition to learning how to wash clothes she also learned from her mother and grandmother the lesson of saving money. Each week she saved money depositing it in her savings account at a local bank. The savings grew. And with the help of the bank employees, Osceola set up a plan to give back. With her savings, this washer woman decided to make a difference by setting aside one dime (10%) for her church, one dime (10%) each for three relatives, and the remaining six dimes (60%) for University of Southern Mississippi. For the latter, Osceola dictated that the funds needed to be used for scholarships for students, with preference given to African Americans, who needed help to attend college due to financial hardship. With Osceola as our example of how someone could help others, we all can do something to give back regardless of our income level.

Back to the good news of 2014, in all sectors - individuals, corporations, foundations and bequest - giving was up. This year, according to the Giving USA Report, individuals gave 5.7% more or a total of $258.51 billion to the nonprofit sector. Bequests also saw an increase of 15.5% for a total of $28.13 billion donations. Corporations, too, saw an increase of 13.7% more given in 2014 than 2013 for a total of $177.77 billion and finally foundation giving increased by 8.2% to a total of $53.97 billion.

Most of the recipient sectors saw an increase in charitable donations in 2014. Here are a few highlights:

  1. Religion continues to garner the lion's share of the donations made annually securing 32% of all the charitable donations made in 2014. But it is important to notice that this sector has actually seen a steady decline for the past thirty (30) years as in 1987 it garnered 53% of all the donations. There are many reasons which contribute to this decline including the fact that fewer Americans are identifying with religion nor attend services on a regular basis.
  2. Education captures the second largest piece of the charitable donations pie with an estimated54.62 billion donated or 15% of all the donations.
  3. Human services organizations received 12% of the total charitable dollars in 2014 which placed it third in total gifts received.
  4. Six of the nine recipient categories witnessed record high giving levels in 2014 (when adjusted for inflation). Those were religion (2.5% increase or114.90 billion), education, (4.9% increase or54.62 billion), human services (3.6% increase or42.10 billion), health (5.5% increase or30.37 billion), arts/culture/humanities (9.2% increase or17.23 billion) as well as environment /animals (7 % increase or10.50 billion).

So as often happens with these staggering numbers, readers ask what does this all mean. As shared before, there still are a lot of options and choices available for people wanting to get involved to make a difference. There are an estimated 1.6 million nonprofit organizations registered in the United States and the IRS is still receiving an average of 100 applications a day from new corporations applying for a nonprofit tax exempt status. The opportunities are truly limitless of where a person could direct a charitable donation or become involved. It is also important to remember that a career could be found in the nonprofit sector as it is currently the third largest employment sector after retail and manufacturing

With an eye toward 2015, below are my top three (3) tips to use when determining where to make your charitable donations this year:

  1. Look back. What did you give to in 2014? Does the nonprofit organization and its activities still excite you? Can you give at the same level or more?
  2. Think outside the box. Most of us give to our house of worship, alma mater and perhaps our children's school. Break out of your routine and begin thinking about what you most care about in your world? What stirs your soul? Develop a list of those ideas.
  3. Plan. Make a plan to support at least one new organization for something about which you care.
BONUS TIP: Don't let guilt drive your charitable budget. Annually set a charitable budget. For some organizations, you can even set up a donation plan so your gift happens automatically on a monthly or quarterly basis via your bank debit card or credit card. But be sure to keep some "extra" money unallocated for that unexpected requested from a child in the neighborhood or your niece and nephew.

2014 donations show that giving is back to the pre-recession levels. Americans continue to care about each other and their neighborhood earning the reputations of the most generous individuals in the world. You can be an active participant in this rich tradition of American history and legacy. Make a commitment today to do something today that will make a difference!

To learn more about the study on 2014 giving, please visit: http://givingusa.org/

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