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So Far, So Good: Results of the 2005 GuideStar Nonprofit Economic Survey

Nonprofits held their own during the first nine months of 2005, according to GuideStar's fourth annual nonprofit economic survey, but they are concerned.

The survey asked charitable organizations to compare contribution levels from January to September 2005 with those from the same period last year. Despite widespread giving to disaster relief, this year's responses were remarkably similar to those for 2004:

Change in Contributions

GuideStar Survey Contributions Decreased Contributions Stayed about the Same Contributions Increased Don't Know
October 2005 22% 26% 49% 3%
October 2004 23% 24% 50% 3%
October 2003 35% 22% 39% 4%
November 2002 48% 22% 28% 3%

These results suggest that contributions to relief and recovery after the tsunamis, Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Rita had little overall effect on charitable giving during the first nine months of the year. (The Guatemalan mud slides, Kashmir earthquake, and Hurricane Wilma all occurred after the September 30 cut-off date for this question.)

At the same time, however, when asked how they thought disaster-relief giving would affect their organizations' end-of-year fundraising, 79 percent of respondents predicted that contributions would stay about the same or decrease, with 38 percent expecting a decrease and 41 percent anticipating giving to stay the same. Only 4 percent foresaw increases, and 17 percent said they did not know.

Participants across the board also reported that demand for their organizations' services had increased. Again, these results closely mirrored last year's (as well as those from 2003):

Change in Demand

GuideStar Survey Demand Decreased Demand Stayed about the Same Demand Increased Don't Know
October 2005 5% 24% 70% 2%
October 2004 5% 23% 71% 2%
October 2003 6% 22% 70% 2%

Contributions by Region, Organization Size, and Subject Area

Regional responses mirrored the national results fairly closely. The percentages of change in contribution vary no more than 5 percent on either side of the national average, with the average variance being slightly more than 1 percent.

Large nonprofit organizations (those with annual expenditures of $500,000 or more) fared the best, with the greatest percentage of participants reporting increased contributions and the smallest proportion reporting decreased contributions. International organizations had the greatest proportion (65 percent) of participants reporting increased contributions and smallest (13 percent) reporting decreased contributions. The "top five" subject areas for both greatest proportion of participants reporting increased contributions and smallest reporting decreased contributions also included organizations in the medical research; philanthropy and grantmaking foundations; health-general and rehabilitative; and public safety/disaster preparedness/relief categories. For the second year in a row, nonprofits in the crime/legal category had the greatest percentage (30 percent) of participants reporting decreased contributions.

Demand by Organization Size and Subject Area

Some 70 percent of respondents reported that demand for their organizations' services had increased. Of these participants, 40 percent reported demand had increased "greatly."

There was no clear correlation between change in demand and change in contributions or between change in demand and organization size. Nonprofits in the food/agriculture/nutrition category had the greatest proportion (83 percent) of participants reporting increased demand, followed by those in the employment/job related category (80 percent). Organizations in the arts/culture/humanities category had the smallest percentage (53 percent) of participants reporting increased demand.


Some 47 percent of participants from grantmaking nonprofits reported that the amounts their organizations awarded during the first nine months of 2005 had increased over amounts awarded during the first nine months of 2004. Another 38 percent said amounts awarded had stayed about the same, 13 percent said they had decreased, and 2 percent did not know.

In total, 45 percent of grantmakers said that applications to their organizations had increased, with three-quarters of these participants reporting that the number of applications increased "modestly."

Of participants who commented on receiving grants or government support, 74 percent noted that the amount they received had decreased, and 26 percent reported an increase.

Read participants' comments in "We Believe That the Katrina Effect Was Real"

About the Survey

Some 4,483 people, 89 percent of whom were associated with public charities, participated in the survey. An additional 10 percent of respondents were associated with private foundations/grantmakers and 1 percent were not associated with a nonprofit. At least 3,949 nonprofit organizations were represented (it was not possible to link approximately 11 percent of the nonprofit respondents with specific organizations). All areas of the country, all sizes of nonprofits, and missions in all subject areas were represented. Responses were received from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, Chile, Guatemala, Haiti, Hungary, India, Nigeria, Korea, Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom, and the Virgin Islands.

Lauren Nicole Klapper-Lehman, December 2005
© 2005, Philanthropic Research, Inc. (GuideStar)

Lauren Klapper-Lehman is an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary. She is currently a communications intern at GuideStar.
Topics: Charitable Giving