Good News—Bad News: The Rite of Spring in the Philanthropic World

“How are you doing?” everyone asks, without really wanting to hear the answer. But, today, I do want to hear your answers to those kinds of questions. So, how did you do in 2013? Did you raise more money? Did you have more donors? How did you compare to other organizations in your sector?

But, more of that later—at the end of this post—with an offer you cannot refuse.

Why am I asking? Because every year—now for more than five decades—we in the philanthropic world experience a sacre du printemps—a rite of spring. The publication of the eagerly awaited Giving USA 2014: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2013—this year’s edition was published this week, on Tuesday, June 17, with much press and instant analysis.

This report, issued annually by a consortium of development consultants, now called The Giving Institute and researched and written by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University contains an estimate of giving by individuals—living and dead—foundations and corporations. The final figures for 2013 will be revised in each of the subsequent two years as more data becomes available.

The report if filled with much to celebrate as well as, in the minds of some, certain things about which to be concerned. Compared to 2012, total giving increased by 4.4% to $335.17 billion in 2013—3% when adjusted for inflation. While individuals, foundations and giving by bequest increased, giving by corporations declined by 1.9%. This relatively robust growth overall, a continuation of the trend of the last four years, is good news. However giving is still not at the pre-recession level achieved in 2007. Just as the recovery from the “Great Recession” has been long and slow, so the rebound in philanthropy—always a lagging indicator to the economy—has been slower than the average recovery after prior recessions.

Total giving in the United States remains at about 2% of the Gross Domestic Product. Claude Rosenberg, a San Francisco philanthropist, mused some years ago about how much more the philanthropic sector could accomplish to educate, culturally illuminate, eradicate poverty and disease as well as address other societal ills with just one more per cent of GDP.

When we look at where the money goes—to what types of organizations Americans distribute their charitable giving—we see that some sectors have experienced growth while others have declined. Areas of endeavor such as education, arts and culture, health and human services all experienced increases in 2013. But, international affairs and religion suffered declines. David H. King, the chair of The Giving Institute, publishers of the report, observed that a “long-term societal trend continues to have an impact on the largest piece of the giving pie – donations to religion. With nonstop declines in the numbers of people either identifying with a particular faith or attending worship services regularly, giving to religion in 2013 reached its lowest level as a percentage of the total in more than 40 years and also declined in current dollars for the first time ever in a non-recession year.”

From our vantage point, as consultants to many religious organizations, while we have observed what King identifies as “a long-term, societal trend,” i.e., declines in affiliation and attendance, every one of our clients has experienced increases in annual and capital giving. While we would like to take all the credit for these wonderful congregations who have bucked the philanthropic trend, we cannot. In fact, the credit is owed to those courageous, pervasively optimistic leaders who rather than complain about an absence culture of giving have begun to create a culture of asking in their communities. In every case, numbers of donors and amounts of money raised have increased. Other sectors, too, which have experienced increases, can point to bold, creative, visionary programs of engagement, relationship building, solicitation and stewardship.

The questions you should ask yourself is “How did you and your organization fare in 2013? What are you doing to continue the positive trends in 2014, or, if necessary, reverse the decline?” Be bold! In that way, you will get your piece of the pie.

If you would like to receive a copy of Highlights of the Giving USA 2014 report, send me an email me by clicking here. Tell me how you did in 2013 and I will forward you a two page overview and analyze your as compared to the rest of “your world” and suggest to you things that you can do to increase your revenue and number of donors for this year.

I cannot wait to hear from you!