Report: Giving grew in 2020 but not for everyone

Written on Jun 16, 2021

In general, 2020 was a banner year for charitable giving in the U.S. which rose to $471.4 billion, according to the latest Giving USA report. That’s a 3.8% increase over estimated giving in 2019.

In the face of economic upheaval, it was uncertain how charitable giving would be affected and whether past crises would provide a road map. Many Americans were able to hold onto their jobs and had resources to give; many wealthy donors became wealthier. But others found themselves unemployed and couldn’t make charitable contributions.

The fact that giving grew in a year with a recession is notable. In the last recession, in 2008 and 2009, giving declined significantly as the economy contracted. The gross domestic product shrank by 3.5% from 2019 to 2020. Total giving last year was a record 2.3% of the $20.9 trillion U.S. gross domestic product. 

The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), donor-advised funds and MacKenzie Scott. All three had an impact on charitable giving in 2020, which reached a record $471.44 billion.

Total charitable giving grew 5.1% measured in current dollars over the revised total of $448.66 billion contributed in 2019, according to Giving USA 2021: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2020, released today. Adjusted for inflation, total giving increased 3.8%. It came in at 2.3% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Three of the four sources of charitable giving grew during 2020, with foundations leading the way:

  • Foundations, $88.55 billion, up 17% (15.6% adjusted for inflation);
  • Bequests, $41.19 billion, up 10.3% (9%)
  • Individuals, $324.1 billion, up 2.2% (1%);
  • Corporations, $16.88 billion, down 6.1% (-7.3%)

Meanwhile, giving to seven of the nine major types of recipient charitable organizations grew in 2020, including double-digit growth in three areas:

  • Public-society benefit, $48 billion, +15.7% (+14.3%)
  • Environment and animals, $16.14 billion, +11.6% (+10.3%)
  • Human services, $65.14 billion, +9.7% (+8.4%)
  • International affairs, $25.89 billion, +9.1% (7.8%)
  • Education, $71.34 billion, +9% (+7.7%)
  • Foundations, $58.17 billion, +2% (+0.8%)
  • Religion, $131.08 billion, +1% (-0.2%)
  • Health, $42.12 billion, -3% (-4.2%)
  • Arts, culture and humanities, $19.47 billion, -7.5% (-8.6%)

Giving USA is the longest-running report on the sources and uses of charitable giving in America. It is published by Giving USA Foundation, a public service initiative of The Giving Institute, and researched and written by authors at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI.

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