Giving USA 2022: Harbinger of Hope or Concern?

by | Jul 25, 2022

The recently released Giving USA 2022 Report offers a mixed bag of indicators.

While total 2021 dollars to Charities were up 4% from 2020, that “boost” is somewhat of an illusion. After inflation, total giving is actually down 0.7%. Moreover, when measured as a percentage of gross domestic product, philanthropic giving slipped from 2.2% to 2.1%.

Within the industry, individual sectors continue to see volatility.

Religious Organizations still represent the largest single sector. But this past year, that was only 27% of total giving, down from 30% just a couple of years ago.

On the other hand, giving to public benefit or arts, culture & humanities organizations seems to have grown. I can look back at any number of prior posts about a new Giving USA report and find similar jockeying.

There are two considerations in this year’s report that catch my attention as a potential cause for concern:

1. Where is the growth?

If you look at cumulative change in giving between 2019 and 2021 based on current dollars:

  • Giving from corporations (4% of total) was up nearly 18%;

  • Giving from foundations (19% of total) was up more than 20%;

  • Giving from bequests (9% of total) was up 21%;

  • Giving from individuals (67% of total) was up only 11%. And an ever-increasing slice of this, the largest share, reflects mega-gifts from very wealthy individuals.

The net result: There were fewer individual donors overall in 2021, and a lower percentage of households giving. Or, put another way, fewer overall donors with a greater percentage of those donors giving larger gifts.

So, what’s an organization to do? Are you better off chasing fewer, larger supporters (corporate sponsors, foundations, major donors) … or continuing to build a broader base of smaller, but perhaps more loyal, supporters? And if you try to do both, how do you prioritize and balance those efforts?

2. Wanna play ‘whack-a-mole’?

One of the challenges of interpreting the Giving USA Report (or other similar time-based snapshots) is the nature of annual comparisons. If your organization receives two or three very large bequests this year, for example, chances are good that bequests as a percentage of total giving will be down next year.

In addition, major developments (natural disasters, cataclysmic legal, political or social shifts) can tend to tilt the entire playing field. Remember the massive 2020 Haiti earthquake? The 2021 Giving USA Report showed a nearly 20% jump in giving to international causes. After the 2016 election, we saw a surge in giving to public society benefit organizations.

Is it just me, or does the frequency, diversity and intensity (or at least intensity of reporting!) of such calamities seem to be increasing? How do you, as an organization, not only get attention for the importance of your cause, but continue to engage interest and involvement on an ongoing basis?

I don’t think these two questions are unrelated … nor do I presume to have an easy answer.

I do think we can all agree the “same-ol, same-ol” business-as-usual, let’s-just-keep-doing-this approach isn’t going to work. More timely. More targeted. More truthful and open. The onus is on you to build strong relationships.

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