The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2021
Fundraising,Strategy Published Date, 2022

2021: A Record Year for Philanthropic Giving, Slightly Hampered by Inflation

Created By: Maryann Grunseth
July 14, 2022

For nearly 70 years, Giving USA Foundation and Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy have released their annual report on philanthropy in this country. This year’s findings, detailed in Giving USA: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2021, demonstrate a year of transition.

The changing of administrations, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines, the reopening of economies, surges of the Delta and Omicron variants, and inflation all played a role in last year’s philanthropic landscape. While 2021 saw record highs in philanthropy from individuals, corporations, and foundations, when adjusted for inflation, contributions remained flat overall, harbingering a slower economy as the world adjusts to living with COVID and the societal and economic complications that come with it.

Last year, Americans gave $484.85 billion to charity, a 4.0% increase over 2020 and the most in American history. While this is a notable milestone, when adjusted for inflation, total giving remained relatively flat, with -0.7% growth.

Below are some trends that have us taking note:

  • Like last year, three of four giving sources increased over the year prior. However, adjusting for inflation paints a different picture, where individual and foundation giving remained stagnant, corporate giving surged, and bequest giving fell by more than 10%.
*Dollar amount in billions
  • While religious giving, one of the philanthropic bedrocks in the United States, made up for a healthy 27% of all giving in 2021, when adjusted for inflation it remained flat (.07% increase) despite 5.4% growth. This is party to an overall trend in which religious giving has remained nearly flat over the last 20 years.
  • Of the 10 categories tracked in the report, education saw the most significant downturn. Giving to education declined -2.8% and -7.2% when adjusted for inflation.
  • Conversely, nonprofits in public-society benefit and arts, culture, and humanities spaces saw laudable growth; 23.5% (17.9% adjusted for inflation) and 27.5% (21.8% adjusted for inflation) respectively.
  • Notably, overall giving to the public-society benefit category continues to rise precipitously, as it has over the last 10 years – from $25.72 billion in 2011 to $55.85 billion in 2021.
  • While giving to arts, culture, and humanities has risen steadily in the last decade, 2021 marked the highest inflation-adjusted value ever for the category.

Inflation is settling in as a part of the global economy and while there is much to be excited about regarding the amount of money being given away, there is good reason for caution among donors and nonprofits alike. With a possible recession on the horizon, organizations should be evaluating their current revenue structures and strengthening their relationships with their key stakeholders. Investments in foundation and corporate team members make sense given last year’s trends, but ultimately, well-rounded development teams will be best set up for whatever trends continue into 2022. And if you’re curious to learn more about how to navigate the current economic climate as it relates to your organization and mission, donors, and staff, you can watch our recent Orr Group TALKS on “What A Bear Market Means For Philanthropy And Jobs”.

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