Jeffrey Byrne: When the going gets tough, the tough step up charitable donations
June 26, 2011
My fundraising colleagues call it the Great Recession, and rightly so. Not since the Great Depression has an economic downturn affected charitable giving like the last few years have. Charitable donations took a double digit hit from 2007 to 2009. According to the Giving USA FoundationTM and its research partner, the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, Americans donated $290.89 billion in 2010, a 3.8 percent increase in current dollars over 2009. At this rate, it will take five to six years to reach the level of charitable contributions reported pre-2007. Last year’s increase, albeit a modest one and the first in three years, is encouraging when put into the context of current economic conditions. Roughly two-thirds of American households make some contribution to charity every year. Numbering more than 75 million, individuals across America remain the single largest group of charitable contributors. Waiting nervously for their own recovery from the recession, Americans now assess the economy based on their home values and whether they can find employment. Without any significant measurable increase in home values, employment or their IRAs, Americans dug deep into their already stretched pockets to donate $10.59 billion more to charitable organizations than they did the year before. Though their financial situations may affect the amount they give, they do give when the need arises. There has been no shortage of natural disasters lately. The earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Japan, and the Joplin, Mo., tornado to name a few. A desperate, time-sensitive need for disaster-related giving could have compounded trouble for already stretched charitable organizations that serve ongoing community needs. But it didn’t. American households not only managed to raise more money than could ever be spent to rebuild areas devastated by natural disasters, but they didn’t drop the ball when it came to supporting their local and national charities either.”Giving could have been construed as an unnecessary expense in the average household budget last year. Our estimates show that people across the country still cared deeply about philanthropy in 2010,” said Thomas W. Mesaros, CFRE, chair of Giving Institute: Leading Consultants to Non-Profits. Giving USA releases estimated giving data for nine types of charitable organizations: religion, education, foundations, human services, health, arts, culture and humanities, international affairs, and environment/animal-related. Of the nine, six showed increases in giving, while only three (religion, human services, and environment/animal-related) reported a less than 2 percent decrease. There is a never-ending need across all charitable sectors, especially during volatile economies and what seems like one natural disaster after another. To put the perpetual need into perspective, if the top foundations pooled together their assets, the total would not make a dent toward meeting the needs of those they serve.Although many American households continue grappling with losing jobs and homes, the spirit of generosity remains. The increase in charitable giving for 2010 reflects that when the going gets tough for Americans, the tough get going by stepping up their support for charitable causes. These figures aren’t only good news for the organizations and foundations that have struggled during The Great Recession to meet demand. They also prove that Americans are the most giving people in the world, which is good news in less than good times.
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