Donor trends: Give us your thoughts
Posted on: July 24, 2018 at 10:10 am

By Shelby Atherton and Marion Lee

The Giving USA figures are out for 2017 and there is good news!  Giving in 2017 rose to more than $410 billion, topping 2016 figures of more than $390 billion.  While this appears to be great news, with a 5.2% increase in giving (not inflation adjusted), there are some trends that bear a closer look. So, let’s begin by looking at the data.

2017 contributions by donor type – total is $410.02 billion

  • 70% Individuals – $286.65
  • 16% Foundations – $66.90
  •   9% Bequests – $35.70
  •   5% Corporations – $20.77

2016 contributions by donor type – total is $390.05 billion

  • 72% Individuals – $281.86 billion
  • 15% Foundations – $59.28 billion
  •  8% Bequests – $30.36 billion
  •  5% Corporations – $18.55 billion

Contributions in dollars increased overall in every donor category

  • $4.79 billion increase from Individuals
  • $7.62 billion increase from Foundations
  • $5.34 billion increase from Bequests
  • $2.22 billion increase from Corporations

The percentage of individual donations decreased by 2% but there was an increase in the percentage of contributions to Foundations and Bequests, each by 1%, therefore, the percentage of direct individual gifts to charities actually decreased in 2017, for the first time in 15+ years, yet the amount from individual donors increased.  These figures show that the nation’s  baby boomers are moving on to the “great donation station in the sky” so bequests to charities have increased by 1%.  Thus, more gifts are coming in through planned giving, and living donors are banking their charitable dollars in private vehicles.

On the other side of the coin, the percentage of gifts to:

  • Religion, Education, and Public Society Benefit (voter education, civil rights, community and economic benefit) all decreased by 1%, while
  • Gifts to Grantmaking Foundations and Health increased by 1%

Which translates into a:

  • $870 million decrease for Education from 2016 to 2017, and a
  • $300 million decrease for Public Society Benefit from 2016 to 2017

Although the percentage of gifts to religion decreased, the amount given in this category increased by $4.43 billion. In other categories, giving increased by:

  • $3.26 billion for Human Services (% of giving remains the same from 2016)
  • $5.09 billion for Gifts to Private Foundations and Advised Funds
  • $5.13 billion for Health
  • $940 million for International affairs
  • $1.3 billion for Arts, Culture, and Humanities (% of giving remains the same from 2016)
  • $780 million for Environment/Animals (% of giving remains the same from 2016)
  • $750 million to individuals

Now it is your turn. Every year we present this data and include our analysis, but this year, we would really like to hear from you.  As you read through the data, jot down your ideas, concerns, trends that you see and send them to us at info@leeplusassociates.com.  We will compile your responses and publish them in our next newsletter.  Pride of authorship is yours so make sure that you let us know if we can attribute comments, etc. to you. 

(Lee+ Associates extends our gratitude to summer intern, Shelby Atherton, for her assistance in reviewing the Giving USA data and for helping author this article.)