Giving USAs 2021 Report on Philanthropy
Fundraising Published Date, 2021

Giving USA’s 2021 Report On Philanthropy: What We Expected, What Surprised Us, And What The Findings Tell Us About The Future

Created By: Kelly Dunphy
June 30, 2021

Perhaps the most unique year in recent memory, to put it mildly, 2020 saw the global pandemic and the ensuing economic decline, the stimulus and CARES Act, the stock market’s rebound, and urgent attention turned toward the racial equity and justice movement. As it has every year for the last 66 years, the Giving USA Foundation and Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy recently released their annual report on philanthropy: Giving USA: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2020, giving us a picture of how these events impacted philanthropy in the U.S.

Americans responded generously to such a challenging year — total charitable giving grew 5.1% from 2019 to 2020 (3.8% adjusted for inflation), to $471.44 billion in total contributions. This is in comparison to 4.7% from 2018 to 2019. This headline is promising, and there is more to the story when one looks at the details. Some organizations had their most successful years ever, while others grappled with severe drop-offs in revenue.

As we reviewed the results, a few key findings stood out to us:

  • Three out of the four sources of contributions increased in 2020. Giving from Individuals increased by 2.2%, gifts via Bequests increased by 10.3%, and Foundation giving increased by a whopping 17%, reflective of the response by many foundations to act quickly and make it easier to access funding and emergency grants in response to COVID. Corporate giving was the only source to decrease, by 6.1%, which makes sense given the hit on corporate revenues and GDP in 2020.
  • Giving via Bequests continues to increase. While the percentage of contributions from Bequests remains steady at 9-10% each year, as the overall pie gets bigger, so does the total amount of contributions from planned gifts from estates of all sizes. With the current generational wealth transfer we’re experiencing, organizations who have taken the step to invest in their legacy giving programs are ensuring financial sustainability in the long-term.
  • Giving USA noted that the Center for Effective Philanthropy surveyed foundations and found that 75% increased the amount given via unrestricted grants. It will be interesting to see if that commitment to flexible support remains steady in 2021 or if it was a one-time response to COVID relief.
  • The report tracks giving to 10 broad mission categories. Religion continues to be the top category for giving at 28% of all charitable contributions, though that percentage has fallen significantly over the last three to four decades. After Religion comes Education (15%) and Human Services (14%), the same order as in 2019.
  • Giving to all but two of the mission categories increased in 2020. Giving to Public Society-Benefit organizations increased the most, by 15.7%, likely driven by increased giving to racial justice work as well as voter education initiatives given the 2020 election year. Surprisingly, giving to Health Care decreased by 3%, though giving to Human Services increased by 9.7%, suggesting that giving to COVID relief efforts was directed more towards Human Services than to Health Care organizations. Giving to Arts, Culture and Humanities also decreased, by 7.5%, unsurprising given the pandemic’s devastating impact on museums, theaters and other performing arts organizations.
  • Giving USA also tracked Blackbaud Institute’s Charitable Giving Report and noted that online giving increased across all mission areas, most significantly in Human Services and Public-Society Benefit organizations. Online giving continues to grow in popularity, and if you are not already, organizations should be thinking of how to strengthen their digital fundraising strategies.

While there are many promising results from 2020, at this point next year, when the results from 2021 are released, will we see the results strengthen, or will these trends stabilize as the world continues to recover from the global pandemic and economic decline?

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