U.S. Charitable Giving Rises -- But Only Among Wealthy

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Alex Hinds/Alamy

NEW YORK -- Wealthy donors are lavishing money on their favored charities, including universities, hospitals and arts institutions, while giving is flat to social service and church groups more dependent on financially squeezed middle-class donors, according to the latest comprehensive report on how Americans give away their money.

The Giving USA report, being released Tuesday, said Americans gave an estimated $335.17 billion to charity in 2013, up 3 percent from 2012 after adjustment for inflation.

Reflecting the nation's widening wealth gap, some sectors fared far better than others. Adjusted for inflation, giving was up 7.4 percent for education, 6.3 percent for the arts and humanities, and 4.5 percent for health organizations, while giving to religious groups declined by 1.6 percent and giving to social service groups rose by only 0.7 percent.

Experts with the Giving USA Foundation and its research partner, the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, said it was the fourth straight year of increased overall giving, and predicted that within two more years the total could match the pre-recession peak of $347.5 billion.

During and immediately after the recession, some wealthy donors shifted their giving to social service groups working to combat hunger and homelessness, according to Patrick Rooney, associate dean of the school of philanthropy. Now, many of those donors -- including some making multimillion-dollar gifts -- are refocusing their attention on higher education, the arts and other sectors long patronized by the affluent, he said.

The trend is readily apparent in the listings of recent major charitable gifts compiled by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which provides news coverage of the nonprofit world.

Among the 100 largest recent gifts, which range from $7.5 million to $275 million, the recipients overwhelmingly are universities and hospitals, along with a few arts institutions. Only four of the gifts are to social service organizations and one to a religious group.

Almost all the U.S. income gains from 2009 to 2012 flowed to the top 1 percent of earners, according to tax data analyzed by economist Emmanuel Saez at the University of California, Berkeley. By contrast, median household income was $51,017 in 2012, $4,600 below its peak in 2007, according to the Census Bureau.

"It's the very wealthiest who have recovered the most in terms of the giving potential, and the very wealthiest do tend to give their biggest gifts to colleges and hospitals," said Stacy Palmer, the Chronicle of Philanthropy's editor.

Those are the institutions that ask more effectively, she added. "They have development offices who offer donors these ambitious plans."

In contrast, she said many social service organizations rely heavily on less wealthy donors who may not yet feel they have fully recovered from the recession. Compounding their struggles, some of those organizations are still experiencing increased demand for services as high unemployment and other social woes persist in many communities, Palmer said.

Rooney noted that many social-service organizations focus on obtaining government contracts and grants, while devoting fewer resources to courting wealthy donors. Universities typically have large, highly professional fundraising staffs, and an easily identifiable pool of potential benefactors.

"For many wealthy alumni, their alma mater is an important part of what made them who they are," Rooney said.

As usual, religious organizations received more donations than any other sector in 2013, with $105.5 billion in gifts. However, Giving USA said that was the lowest portion of total giving -- 31 percent -- for church groups in four decades.

Rooney said giving to churches has been relatively flat for about 15 years, as many denominations report declining attendance, and polls show a drop in the percentage of Americans who consider themselves religious.

"If you don't attend church, you're not likely to give," said Rooney. "And most churches' fundraising efforts are 'Pass the plate.' " They don't have staff with a more scientific approach."

Less Money For Churches

The Illinois-based research firm Empty Tomb, which tracks religious giving trends, says church members are giving less of their income to their churches than they used to -- 2.3 percent in 2011 compared to 3.1 percent in 1968.

One consequence, according to Empty Tomb vice president Sylvia Ronsvalle, is relatively less money available for the churches' social service and missionary programs.

"I fault church leadership for not giving people a vision," she said. "We've left the playing field to these other categories."

The nation's largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, reported earlier this month that the total of gifts to its churches dropped by nearly 1.4 percent last year.

Bill Townes, the SBC's vice president for finance, said the denomination continued to believe it can carry out its mission, but said of the giving trend, "We'd like it to turn around."

Depending on the means of measurement, both wealthy Americans and those of more modest means can claim credit for their generosity.

According to a 2012 Bank of America study, the wealthiest 3 percent of American households accounted for about 35 percent of all giving by individuals in 2011.

Yet the National Center for Charitable Statistics, citing IRS data for 2011, said Americans with incomes under $100,000 gave away a higher percentage of their income -- about 3.6 percent -- than those with incomes between $100,000 and $1 million, for whom the figure was about 2.5 percent. Other studies have found that residents of relatively poor states in the South -- including Alabama and Mississippi -- are among the most generous in the nation in terms of the percentage of their discretionary income that they gave to charity.

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Hey Dopey: you really have no idea how clueless you are. You say "we" already spend the most money per pupil etc, YOU do not. States' budgets are funded from various taxes and sometimes investments and endowments that the state holds Then every state receives money from the federal government. All but one red state gets back more than they pay in. Every blue state gets back LESS than they pay in. Fact not opinion can be easily checked. Then each state decides how their money will be spent. THEY decide, nobody else. Some states (just about all blue) allocate far more money for education than others (red). And it shows. Google student scores by state. There is an unacceptable difference in student achievement. Yes, education has to be funded or your children will suffer. But when the people making these decisions have no respect for and actually disdain education, nobody else can help. I gladly pay higher taxes (and not all that much) for the better outcomes we have - not just in education.

June 18 2014 at 9:11 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Bick 1

Giving money to the colleges and universities is money down a rat hole in a lot of cases. Have you seen their endowments which only grow every year......... where do they spend their money? Helping students.......... hardly, look at the amount of debt kids are graduating with and given the fact that the drop out rate is over 40%, what assistance are they really getting? To much of the money goes to professors salaries, and what a cake job. Paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, work 8 or 9 months a year, and many have graduate assistants do most of the real work.. Colleges need to be looked at as a real charity, which they are not in too many cases. Small, private ones are better but the Harvards, Stanfords and such of the world which horde their endowments and FORCE students to pay out the nose for an education that too often fails to provide them with what is really needed. Face it, it is a good old boy enviornment when it comes to Universities. The wealthy need to find other places to give their money to, Local churches are a wonderful place, they support the poor, educate good manors, fairness, kindness, and are supportive to their local communities. I dont see large staffs and over paid employees in 99% of the churches I am familar with. The main thing is that a higher percentage goes to help PEOPLE like the poor, elderly, and such. Can you imagine a College doing that? Technical schools should be where they consider using their excess money, the US is in need of schools that teach skills such as building, mechanical, computer skills, etc, The benefits of growing a skilled base would give a tremendous help to our country in many areas and employ our people. WE have way to many chiefs and not enough trained indians, so to speak.
Bottom line, If you dont know where your money is going, dont give.

June 18 2014 at 7:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Bick 1's comment

You mean Harvard and Stanford have begun to FORCE tuition payments? As in showing up under cover of darkness with guns drawn to confiscate tuition from unsuspecting victims?

June 18 2014 at 8:27 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
crazy ray

Ever since I found out that MOST charities use a great portion of thier gifts fro salaries, promos, and expenses, and thos in need see only a small portion, I've taken my charitiy to a more personal level. I actually give needy people food, clothing, and shelter. That's not counted in your cheating statistics. But I'm tired of paying executives hundreds of thousands of dollars to take my money. Look up the ballance cheat for ANY charity and you'd be shocked.

June 18 2014 at 4:55 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

So you make more than you can spend, more than you need, more than you should have and you give what? .0001% of your income and somehow your conscious is clear because, hear this folks, all these rich parasites are invested in Hedge Funds, the packs of dogs that are destroying the world, buying companies, firing workers, taking clean water and food form babies in Africa, the Vulture Capitalists! These demons are not making 1.17% at the local bank. They are traitors to America and no matter how much you try to say this is sour grapes, no this is the truth about the rich. Yeah they are givers after they have taken everything they can from the rest of us...

June 18 2014 at 3:19 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to contactjohn's comment

And then there's you, earning nothing and taking all you can.

June 18 2014 at 8:25 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Should be another warning the middle class is quickly disappearing. We do not have the "extra 'cash to give any longer.One politician called the middle class apathetic,because we did not attend 'strikes and picket lines". Probably because we are at work, paying our bills, shuttling our kids to and from school, and afterschool activities.

June 17 2014 at 11:13 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
Tom Harrell

The First paragraph says it ALL.

Wealthy donors are lavishing money on their favored charities, including universities, hospitals and arts institutions, while giving is flat to social service and church groups more dependent on financially squeezed middle-class donors, according to the latest comprehensive report on how Americans give away their money.
The Middle Class can Suck EGGS for all they Care.

June 17 2014 at 9:04 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Tom Harrell's comment

Yes, who imagines middle class citizens benefit from education, health care, or culture, right? Perhaps goon spending in these areas similarly illustrates a lack of attention to middle class citizens, and should therefore be discontinued? I mean it's one thing to voluntarily gift in a manner that fails to benefit certain citizens, but what could possibly be worse than forcibly confiscating with a similar outcome?

Probably even more important is what the author failed to mention. Giving by sh1theads like you remains non-existent. All of humanity can suck EGGS as far as you're concerned.

June 17 2014 at 9:31 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

unitedpaintings,......is a wuss.

June 17 2014 at 4:45 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Matilda, aka Evan Barthold is a dunce.

June 17 2014 at 4:42 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply

I wonder about FL too...wonder how many charities,churches etc they have and where the money goes....flat know there's people hurting there too...

June 17 2014 at 3:31 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to pllove49's comment

There's people hurting in every state. People like you who wonder where other people's people money goes instead of wondering what you can do to help are part of the reason why.

June 17 2014 at 4:06 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to trew.liberal's comment

Help friggin' who??? I've played taxi...supplied food to familiesin need tables,loaned and given money,shelter,clothes etc etc...and I'm just one dan person....AND if you don't like me asking what all those other people are doing...that just too darn bad!

June 17 2014 at 4:33 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down

If you don't like me observing that your infatuation with other people's charity does nothing to help those in need, that's just too darn bad.

June 17 2014 at 7:00 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down

These 9 Maps Should Absolutely Outrage Southerners

The red states have the highest poverty rates, welfare & food stamp use, lowest wages, highest teen birth rates, highest number of people on Disability , and the highest rates of people uninsured. Nothing but failed Republican policies.


June 17 2014 at 3:09 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to teaparty2implode's comment

Your staggering stupidity should absolutely outrage your parents.

Except that they're hillbilly welfare sh1theads too

June 17 2014 at 4:07 PM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to trew.liberal's comment

Stupidity ?......Google (the party of stupid) and see what comes up.

June 17 2014 at 4:38 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down

Yes, stupidity.

You know, like a pathetic imbecile too dumb to know the highest welfare jurisdictions are places like Washington, DC, New Mexico, and Oregon. Or too dumb to know the lowest cost-of-living adjusted per income are similarly in blue states.

You know, dunces like you.

June 17 2014 at 7:14 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down