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Giving USA 2015 Findings – Cause for Celebration or Concern?

By July 15, 2016October 13th, 2021No Comments

In 2015, individuals, estates, foundations, and corporations in the United States gave a total of $373.25 billion, according to Giving USA’s latest report. This amount is an all-time high, averaging over $1 billion per day and representing a 4.1 percent increase over 2014 giving. While the numbers are impressive, the publishers of the report also highlight the powerful philanthropic impulse behind the data: “What lies behind the numbers is often caring, empathy, or the strong desire to make a difference – whether for one person or for thousands… Giving can make an enduring difference, around the world, across the country, and in the communities where we live and work every day.”

For those who are not familiar with data on US giving, it can be surprising to see how the numbers break down by source of giving:

  • More than two thirds of all giving (71 percent of the total) is from individuals, reflecting a 3.8 percent increase over 2014.
  • Foundation giving represents 16 percent of the total, an increase of 6.5 percent.
  • Bequests account for 9 percent of the total, and increased by 2.1 percent.
  • Corporate giving represents only 5 percent of the total, reflecting an increase of 3.9 percent over 2014.

TPI’s mission is to help funders of all types – individuals, families, foundations, and corporations – to increase the impact of their philanthropy. While we celebrate the increase in overall giving, the findings in some respects raise more questions than they answer. And so we wonder:

  • Is there an increase in what we would describe as strategic philanthropy? Nearly 30 years ago, the wise and thoughtful Paul Ylvisaker defined strategic philanthropy as “finding systemic solutions to underlying causes of poverty and other social ills.” If there has been a trend in this direction, how would we know it? What kinds of long-term changes can we point to that stem at least in part from philanthropic efforts?
  • Are funders taking enough risks – particularly those who seek to address daunting social issues, or what some refer to as “wicked problems”? Are they taking the right risks? For those who have made “big bets” with their philanthropy, giving large amounts to a few organizations, which of these grants will ultimately result in lasting solutions?
  • While corporate giving went up this year, it has been declining as a percent of corporate profits in recent years. Are corporations achieving less impact, or are they figuring out how to do more with less? For many of TPI’s corporate clients, leadership and leverage are key elements – including efforts to engage employees and other stakeholders, and to use a variety of corporate resources that go beyond the money. If companies were to become increasingly strategic with their philanthropic resources, how might the resulting impact influence levels of corporate giving?
  • Giving to individuals is one of the rare categories of beneficiaries in Giving USA that has decreased. Does this reflect a shift to more institutional giving? At TPI we are seeing the opposite trend, with increasing donor interest in helping young people not only gain access to college, but succeed in completing college and pursuing fulfilling career paths. Through a combination of financial assistance, mentoring and other wrap-around services throughout college, TPI’s college success programs are transforming the lives of individuals in profound ways. Are these kinds of models reflected in the data on giving to individuals?
  • To what extent are giving levels and strategies influenced by visible leaders like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, or by efforts like the Giving Pledge ­– and sites like Foundation Center’s Eye on the Giving Pledge? While the mega-givers tend to dominate in terms of numbers and media coverage, we continue to marvel at the power of small grants to make a difference and achieve lasting impact. What more could be done to inspire more and more effective philanthropy at all levels?

What questions are on your mind? What are the conversations about philanthropy that you would love more funders and corporate leaders to have as they consider the highest and best use of their philanthropic resources? Join us in deepening the dialogue.