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From Figures to Fundraising: How to apply Giving USA

Giving USA 2015: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2014, was released this morning. The 60th consecutive edition of this seminal report contains good news for anyone interested in the nonprofit world; for one thing, Americans donated a record $358.38 billion to charity last year, the most ever whether you measure the total in current- or inflation-adjusted dollars.

If that’s not enough good news, 2015 also marked the fifth year in a row where giving went up. In addition, eight of nine types of charitable organizations saw growth in 2014. And, individuals once again were responsible for the lion’s share of donations – 72 percent, in fact. These data – and more, much more – are available in a complimentary executive summary. Visit to download your free copy of Highlights or for more information.

No matter your role within the nonprofit field, Giving USA 2015 will arm you with intelligence to inform and refine your fundraising efforts, educate stakeholders and benchmark your charity against national trends.

If you’re wondering how 60 years of historical data will help you in 2015, consider that understanding the history of charitable giving, and comparing it to the history of your own organization, provides valuable insight into how you got to where you are today. That helps you plan for tomorrow.

For example, you can:

  • Make informed assumptions. Review historical trends in overall giving and giving by nonprofit sector to understand the market for giving on a national level.
  • Inform your strategic planning. Use the history to make educated assumptions about growth in giving over the next few years.
  • Focus fundraising efforts using data and trends about the four types of sources—individuals, bequest, foundations, and corporations. Then, adjust your outreach as necessary.
  • Incorporate data and takeaways into your organization’s proposals and communication materials.
  • Dispel myths about fundraising. For example, the misconception that most donations come from corporations and/or foundations.
  • Discover overall trends you might need to address. The percentage of alumni who donate to their alma mater has been declining for more than two decades. Do you see similar trends that could impact your nonprofit and need to be planned for?
  • Educate volunteer leaders about American philanthropy, particularly when it comes to how your organization’s funding patterns and future potential compare to the national picture.
  • Take the guesswork out of fundraising. Giving USA helps you unravel economic trends (like stock market performance, disposable personal income, Gross Domestic Product, and more) and how they correlate to giving by source. Being able to discuss them knowledgeably with audiences who consider them important can boost rapport as well as donations.

Next, ask yourself some questions:

  • How did my specific subsector perform? They don’t grow or decline at the same rate.
  • Do all my organization’s stakeholders have the same level of understanding about charitable giving? If not, maybe a short presentation is in order so all are on the same page.
  • What are the trends behind the raw numbers? Take a holistic view, then dive deep into each sector for context and factors behind increases or decreases.
  • Has giving to my subsector been markedly changing since the first Giving USA? If you are in the religion field, for instance, the answer is a definite yes—while donation totals are up, market share has been dropping for three decades.
  • Finally, how do these data predict the future? Much like a stock sales prospectus will tell you that “past results are not an indicator of future performance,” our report can’t tell you exactly what will happen in the future. However, it can help you understand important relationships that will continue to affect philanthropy; for example, the close correlation between performance of the S&P 500 and total giving.

Keith Curtis Keith Curtis

The preceding is a guest post by Keith Curtis. Keith has more than 30 years of experience working on behalf of philanthropic organizations across Virginia and the mid-Atlantic region. Over that time, Keith has become recognized as an expert in all aspects of fundraising and nonprofit management. He is also a sought-after advisor and speaker, making up to 40 presentations a year to the nonprofit industry, including venues such as: National Blackbaud Conference for Nonprofits, keynote address at the Virginia Fundraising Institute’s annual conference, multiple Association of Fundraising Professionals chapter presentations in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and New York, the Center for Nonprofit Excellence; the Association of Zoos & Aquariums conference; and a variety of other national and state conferences.

The preceding post is excerpted from the chapter of the same name in Giving USA 2015. Mr. Curtis would like to acknowledge his fellow Giving Institute board members who contributed insight on the topic -- Jeffrey Byrne (Jeffrey Byrne + Associates), Donald Fellows (Marts & Lundy) and David King (Alexander Haas).

Topics: Fundraising