The World of Giving: U.S. Charitable Giving in 2011 Paints a Fascinating Picture

Americans are often cited as the most generous people in the world! Did you know that giving by individuals -- people like you and me -- accounted for 88% of all donations made in 2011?
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Americans are often cited as the most generous people in the world! Did you know that giving by individuals -- people like you and me -- accounted for 88 percent of all donations made in 2011?

Today the Giving USA Foundation and its research partner, the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, release their annual look at philanthropy in the United States (a survey done annually since 1956), and the news for 2011 is very interesting, giving a snapshot of not just the landscape of charitable donations but of our people and country overall.

Here are some interesting facts. There was $298.42 billion given in 2011 from the U.S., an increase of 4 percent (but just +.9 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars) from 2010's $286.91 billion. Continuing long-term trends, 73 percent came from INDIVIDUALS. That's right. Even counting the huge dollars given each year by such organizations as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, George Soros' Open Society Foundations and other very familiar foundations, individuals gave, in amounts both big and small, 73 percent of all donations last year.

And, as shared earlier in this blog, when bequests and family foundations are added to this amount the total given by individuals was 88%!

The 2011 report shows some encouraging signs. Americans are continuing to give, they are feeling slightly more confident in doing so and they continue to believe in Making a Difference. While that is all good news, there is also the sobering news that the last two years, while showing increases in giving, represent the slowest recovery in 40 years after a recession. It's not surprising that as long as there is continued volatility in the economy, charitable giving will reflect this reality in the coming months and years.

So how to look at this...and what does it mean for you and for me?

Well, it means that American individuals are Making a Difference -- much more than corporations and more than the largest foundations -- by supporting the critical and essential work done by the more than 1.5 million charities in the U.S. as they address issues and needs around the world.

It means that individuals -- just like you -- have a voice in what gets done and how.

And it means that YOU can make change happen, with $10 or $100 or $1,000 or much more, and that the causes you care about are getting their work done because you make it possible.

Here is where American giving is coming from...

  • Individuals represented, as noted above, 73 percent of total giving

  • Bequests were 8 percent of giving
  • Corporate giving (corporations and corporate foundations) was flat - just 5 percent of the total
  • Foundation support was up but represents only 14 percent of the total
  • ... and where it's going, with the subsectors that saw increases:

    • Education, which ranked second (far behind religion), was 13 percent of the total

  • Human Services was 12 percent of the total, an increase of 2.5 percent and the third highest total ever for this subsector
  • Health donations increased and were 8% of the total
  • International Affairs grew to 8 percent. This is the fastest growing subsector, with 240 percent growth over the last decade! Why? It's partly due to the fact that more charities are working internationally, that major disasters around the world get steady attention (with information in the media about how to help) and that many new connections are being made around the world through the internet
  • Public-Society benefit support (such as the United Way, Combined Federal Campaign and other groups that redistribute donations) was 7 percent. However, the three largest "Donor Advised Funds" in this group grew by an astounding 77 percent
  • Support of Arts, Culture and Humanities was 4 percent of the total
  • Giving to Environmental and Animal organizations increased to 3 percent of donations
  • These subsectors saw decreases in donations:

    • Religion continued to be, as always, the largest of all subsectors and in 2011 was 32 percent of the total. But 2011 was the second straight year showing decreases in the amount given to religious organizations, declining by 1.7 percent
  • Giving to Foundations decreased by 6.1 percent to 9 percent of the total
  • So how do you fit in?

    Most importantly is to recognize that you, and your family, truly Make a Difference (M.A.D.). Other studies have shown that about ½ of all donations are made by households with incomes under $100,000 meaning every single donation contributes to making things happen.

    Here are five (5) tips consider when deciding on your charitable donations this year that will ensure you are Making A Difference (M.A.D.):

    • Think about your greatest interests, and plan to support an organization that works in that area - locally, regionally, nationally or even internationally

  • Look into the needs of your community, and which organizations are handling them; you can find this out by reading the paper, looking online, watching a newscast or asking your neighbors
  • Add charitable donations to your annual budget, so your support can grow without straining your other needs; you can even set up a donation plan so your gift happens automatically on a monthly or quarterly basis
  • Give your children the habit of philanthropy by putting aside part of their allowance for making donations then researching with them where it can go at the end of the year (and if you match this gift it can go twice as far!)
  • Learn about estate planning so you can make a difference far into the future; in fact, you'll find there are planned gifts that pay YOU on a regular basis (look into "charitable gift annuities" to learn more)
  • After all, though giving is increasing, the need is great and it could take a decade or more to return to pre-recession giving levels. So take a look at where you want to Make a Difference; there are lots of ways to get there. Just consider, are you M.A.D. today?

    To learn more about the study on 2011 giving, please visit:

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