Americans achieved a philanthropic landmark in 2017: for the first time total charitable giving surpassed $400 billion in a single year. A booming stock market and a generally strong economy combined to increase Americans’ financial resources and their confidence in sharing those additional resources through their philanthropy.
Giving from individuals, bequests, foundations and corporations to U.S. charities surged to an estimated $410.02 billion, an increase of 5.2 percent over the previous year. Americans gave generously, and the growth was virtually across the board.
Reflecting the diverse and wide-ranging interests of donors, all four sources of giving and all but one of the major types of charitable organizations that receive contributions experienced increases. In fact, three of the four sources of contributions and seven of the nine types of recipient organizations saw giving grow by 5 percent or more. Donations to the arts rose 8 percent.
The milestone year for giving reflected in part substantial increases in efforts by donors to set aside money for philanthropic organizations and causes, especially among donors at the top end of the economic spectrum. For many of those, increased income and wealth translated to more opportunities to give. The rate of growth in giving to foundations—15.5 percent (derived from Foundation Center data)—was three times as large as the growth rate for overall giving, due in part to several mega-gifts. Many national commercial donor-advised funds reported that 2017 was a record-breaking year. Donors did not forget those in need closer to home either, responding to a string of domestic disasters with locally focused giving, often through community-based organizations.
It was also a year of unexpected changes, including some that led many in the philanthropic sector to feel unsettled and prompted widespread interest in how new developments might affect charitable giving in 2017 and in the future. Among those were the advent of a new federal administration, giving in response to a tumultuous political climate, year-end giving, and tax policy changes approved in late December 2017.
While it is too soon to know the impact some of these changes may have on giving, in this year’s Giving USA report, we help you begin to unpack and assess what happened with many of these issues, and what effect they may have on giving overall and on your organization.
With these changes, as with your daily work, Giving USA provides you with the solid knowledge of context, history, and patterns, leading to useful perspectives that can help advance your organization. Throughout the report, our experts and advisors offer sage insights and advice for fundraisers and other philanthropic sector professionals and volunteers.
Giving USA Foundation, The Giving Institute, and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI are pleased to continue our partnership in providing the most comprehensive, longest-running, and most rigorously researched resource on U.S. charitable giving. We are privileged to report on Americans’ generosity, the forms it takes, how those patterns and trends unfold over time, and what that means for you.
As we celebrate this landmark in charitable giving and explore and incorporate these new data and insights, let us also come together to maintain the meaningful relationships that make these gifts possible and to sustain and build upon these gains for the good of all people.
The above appears as the Foreword in Giving USA 2018: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2017, released June 12, 2018, at www.GivingUSA.org. Giving USA is published by Giving USA Foundation and researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. The authors are Aggie Sweeney, CFRE, chair of Giving USA Foundation; Rachel Hutchisson, chair of The Giving Institute; and Amir Pasic, Eugene R. Tempel Dean, Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.