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U.S. Giving Declines in 2008 Reflecting Economic Woes

(June 11, 2009) Charitable giving in the United States declined for the first time since 1987, reports the Giving USA Foundation, though total giving again broke the $300 billion mark.

In 2008, estimated overall charitable giving in the U.S. was $307.65 billion, which is a 5.7 percent drop from 2007, according to Giving USA in a report released recently. In 2007, giving totaled an estimated $314.07 billion. This marks the biggest decline in the history of this report, first published in 1956.

The Giving USA totals back up the findings AFP’s State of Fundraising Survey, which asks charities to compare their fundraising totals in 2008 to their figures in 2007. AFP found that overall, just 46 percent of organizations raised more funds in 2008, a new low in the eight-year history of the survey. Of the organizations that did raise more money, the amount of money raised also dropped substantially.

According to Giving USA, individual giving, which made up 75 percent of total giving, dropped 6.3 percent and totaled $229.28 billion in 2008. Charitable bequests totaled $22.66 billion, representing a 6.3 percent drop, and corporate giving declined 8 percent to $14.5 billion. Only foundation grantmaking, totaling an estimated $41.21 billion, came close to reaching 2007 totals with a decline of 0.8 percent.

Two-thirds of public charities receiving donations saw decreases in 2008. Only Religion and Public-Society Benefit received more money in 2008 than the previous year after adjusting for inflation.

Most Subsectors See Declines

  • Gifts to human services organizations decreased an estimated 15.9 percent from 2008 to 2007.
  • Education saw a drop of 9 percent.
  • The health subsector and the arts, culture and humanities subsector both received about 10 percent less in charitable donations.
  • The environment/animals subsector received an estimated 9 percent less than in 2007.
  • Donations to international affairs organizations decreased 3.1 percent.
  • Religion was one of only two subsectors to receive more money in 2008 than 2007 (when adjusted for inflation) and received an estimated 1.6 percent more for a total of $106.89 billion.
  • Public-society benefit organizations made up 8 percent of total giving and saw an increase in donations of 1.5 percent.

NOTE: All percentages above have been adjusted for inflation.

“These giving totals affirm the unique challenges fundraisers and charities have been facing over the past year,” said Paulette V. Maehara, CFRE, CAE, president and CEO of AFP. “It is an extremely difficult giving environment right now, but on the other hand, we have to be amazed at the continuing extraordinary levels of support from donors. Success isn’t easy, but with a continued emphasis on innovation and donor cultivation and stewardship, organizations can weather this storm.”

Challenges for Human Services Subsector

Giving USA this year also included a report specifically focusing on human services organizations. They note the following trends (results are based on 228 completed surveys).

  • Compared with 2007, 54 percent of human services charities saw an increase in need for their services in 2008; 30 percent saw little change in need; and 16 percent saw a decline.
  • For 2009, 60 percent of the surveyed human services organizations were cutting expenses, including cutting services or staff, due to funding shortages;
  • The type of human service agency most likely to be underfunded was youth development/serving children and youth. Of this type of group in the study, 74 percent said they are underfunded or severely underfunded, meaning that current available funding was insufficient to meet current demand.
  • Among organizations working to meet people’s basic needs (food, shelter, clothing, etc.), more than half (53 percent) said they are underfunded or severely underfunded for 2009.
Giving USA 2009 is a publication of Giving USA Foundation, and is researched and written by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. The complete report is expected to be released in July. More information can be found at

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