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The Current Giving Environment

In 2012, charitable giving was beginning to recover from the global recession, but was still down from giving levels in 2007. Growth in giving has remained relatively flat over the past two years, while demand for charitable services continues to remain very high. Below are figures and details about giving and fundraising in 2011, the latest year for which numbers are available.

The 2012 Nonprofit Fundraising Survey, produced by the Nonprofit Research Collaborative, asks charities to compare their 2011 year-end fundraising totals to their 2010 year-end fundraising totals):

  • Charitable receipts rose in 2011 at more than half of surveyed organizations. As of October 2011, many nonprofit organizations in an earlier survey reported continued financial difficulties (see the Late Fall 2011 Nonprofit Fundraising Survey report). However, in a sudden turn, by the end of the year, a majority of responding organizations (53 percent) saw charitable receipts increase compared with 2010.
  • This is the first time since 2007 that more than half of charitable organizations surveyed saw an increase in charitable receipts, but it is still not equal to the “banner year” of 2006, when 69 percent saw growth in charitable receipts
  • There were no statistically significant differences in the share seeing growth when analyzed by region of the country, but as in earlier studies, smaller organizations (operating budgets below $1 million) reported increases in charitable receipts less often than larger organizations.
  • By type of organization (subsector), between 51 percent and 56 percent of responding charities saw increases in charitable receipts in all subsectors except Public-Societal Benefit (48 percent saw growth) and International (73 percent saw growth). Those two were the only statistically significantly different results compared with the overall pattern.
  • Not only did more organizations raise more in 2011, nearly 6 in 10 (59 percent) organizations met their fundraising goal in 2011. Factors associated with meeting goal include organizational size; number of paid fundraising staff; and the years of fundraising experience of the person most responsible for the organization’s fundraising (which does include volunteers).
  • By fundraising method, more organizations saw increases than decreases in charitable gifts from almost every commonly used fundraising method: online, direct response (mail), special events, foundation grants, and major gifts. Board giving improved, for example, at 42 percent of organizations, held steady at 45 percent, and declined at 13 percent. This might reflect improved results from other constituent groups, so that pressures to give seen in 2010 eased up for board members.
  • Less widespread methods of fundraising typically showed a lower percentage of organizations seeing an increase in 2011, compared with those seeing a decrease in receipts from the method in the same year. These include telephone, planned gifts, federated campaign contributions (amount distributed by United Ways, Jewish federations, and similar groups), and congregational contributions (amounts given to other nonprofit organizations by congregations).
  • Survey respondents remain optimistic about prospects for fundraising in 2012, with 71 percent expecting to raise more this year than in 2011. However, when asked about the most important trends or issues that could affect fundraising results either positively or negatively, nearly one-third (31%) mentioned local, national, or global economies as a challenge to raising funds this year. 

Giving USA 2012 is a publication of the Giving USA Foundation that is researched and written by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and examines 2011 giving in the U.S.: 

  • In 2011, estimated overall charitable giving in the U.S. was $298.42 billion, which is a 4.0 percent increase from 2010 (0.9 percent increase adjusted for inflation).
  • Individual giving, which makes up 75 percent of total giving, increased 3.9 percent (0.8 adjusted for inflation) from 2010 and totaled $217.79 billion in 2010. Charitable bequests from individuals added another $24.41 billion in 2011, a 12.2 percent increase (8.8 percent adjusted for inflation) compared to 2010.
  • Corporate giving remained flat in 2011, decreasing by 0.1 percent compared to 2010 (and declining by 3.1 percent when adjusted for inflation), and totaling $14.55 billion.
  • Foundation grantmaking, totaling an estimated $41.67 billion, increased by 1.8 percent compared to 2010 (adjusted for inflation, foundation giving decreased by 1.3 percent)
  • Giving by Subsector:


2011 Giving Total

(in billions)



Increase/Decrease (adjusted for inflation)













Human Services








Public-Society Benefit








International Affairs








Individuals (typically in-kind gifts)




  • 2011 giving also includes nearly $9 billion in unallocated giving, a category which includes itemized deductions carried over from previous years, giving to governmental entities, gifts to entities in other countries by foundation, and contributions to new organizations not yet classified.

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