Charitable giving in the United States beginning to recover

By Maria Saporta

After a couple of bleak years, it appears that charitable giving is coming back.

That was the message at a recent presentation by David King, a board member of the Giving USA Foundation, which conducts an annual study on philanthropic trends.

In 2010, there was $290.89 billion in charitable giving, a 3.8 percent increase in current dollars over 2009. The total giving in 2009 was $280.30 billion.

“Most definitely, things have turned around,” said King, managing partner and president of Alexander Haas Martin & Partners, after his presentation at Oglethorpe University. “The worst is over, but I don’t think we are going to get back to where we were in 2007 in the near future.”

In 2007, total giving topped $300 billion.

“We are back at the 2000 levels in inflation adjusted dollars,” King said. “We basically had a lost decade in philanthropy. But we have hit bottom, and the worst is behind us.”

In breaking down the numbers, the Giving USA study showed that individuals are the most important source for philanthropy – giving $211. 77 billion, or 73 percent of the total.

The next largest source of giving were foundations — $41.0 billion, or 14 percent of the total.

Bequests represented 8 percent, giving $22.83 billion. And corporations gave a total of $15.29, 5 percent of the total.

As to who benefitted from the giving, religion remained the largest single recipient — getting 35 percent of the total. But King said that the study shows that the market share going to religion has continued to lose ground.

The other major recipients were: education: 14 percent; foundations: 11 percent; and human services: 9 percent. Other major categories included: public-society giving (such as United Ways): 8 percent; health: 8 percent; arts and culture: 5 percent and international affairs: 5 percent.

International affairs increased by an estimated 15.3 percent 2010. That included $360 million that went to Haitian earthquake relief.

Giving USA also said that in 2010, charitable giving represented 2 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. That percentage has been as high as 2.3 in 2000, 2001 and 2005 and as low as 1.7 percent through much of the 1980s and 1990s.

The number of nonprofit, charitable organizations continue to increase. In 2010, there were 1.28 million nonprofits with revenues of at least $5,000. In 2009, there were 1.24 million organizations. By comparison, in 2001, there were 865,096 nonprofit organizations.

In summary, King said: “Giving has recovered but at a much slower rate than historical levels. It’s much like the economy.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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