Have you seen the latest results from the Giving USA Foundation?
Their new report summarizing charitable giving during 2005 found that giving was up $15 billion, or 6.1 percent, over 2004. In total, Americans contributed more than $260 billion to charity last year. That's a remarkable number, isn't it? It underscores once again how much Americans value the work of the nonprofit sector and how generous they are in supporting the services we provide.
The $260 billion figure also reminds me how important it is for all of us to pay special attention to earning and retaining the trust that donors place in us. For me that includes being totally transparent in what we do—sharing information and finances and important information about programs and missions. But it also means being accountable: what did we do with supporters' money? Are we being efficient in how we use it? Are our activities effective and resulting in the changes we said they would? Donors are putting a lot of confidence in us, and we have an obligation to meet their trust.
The report only includes charitable contributions and doesn't attempt to measure all of the other ways that nonprofits affect the economies of our communities, such as retirement plans, business expenses and operations, and payroll taxes. Given the important role our sector plays in the nation's economy, why aren't we exercising more political clout when it comes to establishing priorities for federal, state, and local governments?
Giving USA 2006 found that nearly half—2.8 percent—of the increase in giving went to disaster relief and recovery. In total that was more than $7 billion. The report conjectures that most of the disaster support was on top of normal contributions and didn't have much influence on traditional giving patterns. Here at GuideStar, we also noticed the impact of disaster relief, with huge spikes in traffic to our Web site around the tsunami and Katrina disasters. Our users were looking for more information about nonprofits, since many were learning about certain types of organizations and making contributions to specific nonprofits for the first time. GuideStar became a place where donors could research, identify services, and contribute with confidence.
What do you think? I'd be interested in hearing about your experiences last year and what it means for your organization and the sector as a whole.