Charitable Giving Improved in 2010

As the U.S. economy recovers from the recent recession, so is charitable giving. In 2010, 43% of charities reported more contributions than in 2009, according to a survey (.pdf) conducted by the Nonprofit Research Collaborative ("NRC"). Of the charities surveyed, 24% reported approximately the same level of giving, while 33% reported a decline. The NRC's new report breaks down 2010 giving to provide a number of ways to see how philanthropy changed in 2010.

Some Giving History

First, here's a chart the NRC provides to put those 2010 giving numbers into context:

NRC 2010 fig 2.png

Although the note included says that the surveying methods were somewhat different for 2010, this chart at least gives you an idea of how charitable giving has trended over the past decade. You can see that nonprofit organizations were thriving from 2004 through 2007. But growth slowed considerably when the recession struck. In 2010, the 33% that saw less giving was the smallest percentage since the recession began. But even in good times, the portion of firms seeing a decline in giving never declined below 24% -- so 33% in 2010 doesn't look so bad.

Despite the relatively good result in 2010, the NRC also reports that only 52% of charitable organizations met their fundraising goals during the year. That's about the same as 2009's performance of 53% meeting their goals. This percentage sort of makes sense, as most charities probably expect some growth year-over-year when the economy is improving, and since 43% saw more contributions, the number that met their goal shouldn't be very much higher.

Giving by Region

From region to region there was not significant variation of how giving changed for philanthropic organizations. Here's the chart from the NRC:

NRC 2010 fig 3.png

Again, this variation is very minor, but it's interesting to note that the Midwest had a slightly stronger performance than the other regions. This could be due to its having been less severely affected by the housing bubble and recession that followed than other regions. The theory holds up for the South and West, which experienced a little bit less giving growth than the other regions. They were the areas most severely struck by the housing bubble. Many of their states are still struggling with very high unemployment rates.

Giving by Size of Organization

The NRC survey also tracked donation growth by the size of the nonprofit organization. This chart shows the results:

NRC 2010 fig 4.png

This pretty clearly shows that the bigger the organization, the better it did in 2010. As you move from small to big among these four categories, the percentage of organizations that saw more giving moves from 39% to 49%.

In what remains a relatively tough environment for charities, it makes sense to see larger organizations experiencing more donation growth than smaller organizations. The big ones have more resources to seek and acquire the philanthropic giving opportunities that are out there. With fewer donations to go around, size helps.

One interesting observation the NRC report points out is that small and very small organizations are more likely to have a larger percentage of firms with stable giving. This might mean that some of these firms have a well-defined niche of loyal donors.

Giving By Type of Organization

There was only minor variance for giving growth for different types of organizations. Here's another chart from the NRC:

NRC 2010 fig 5.png

Two outliers are philanthropic organizations that target international and religious causes. They appear to be doing better than the others. But the NRC notes that the results for these two categories are based on very small sample sizes, so they might not be extremely accurate.

Interestingly, charity for human services was another outlier on the downside. Just 38% of those organizations saw increased giving. One possible explanation for this is that the government's ever-growing influence in providing human services has slowed giving to this cause, but the NRC blames the category's weak performance on the relatively small sizes of the group's organizations. The biggest decline, however, was giving to art charities, with 38% seeing donations fall in 2010.

Giving By Type of Donor

In one of the most interesting charts of the report, the NRC provides a visual representation of how different types of donors contributed in 2010:

NRC 2010 fig 9.png

This chart might seem a little hard to understand (and it looks like there is a mistake in the NRC's explanation). But the idea is that the size of a circle shows what percentage of organizations surveyed say some type of donor made up various portions of all contributions. For example, the top-left bubble shows that 15% of the organizations surveyed said individuals were responsible for between 1% and 9% of their total contributions.

This graphic shows that individuals remain a pretty huge influence for philanthropic giving. Nearly half of organizations said that at least 50% of their donations came from individuals. The smallest influence on charities appears to be from corporations.

Although this NRC's report shows that charities on a whole had a better year in 2010, giving still isn't growing at the rate it was prior to the recession. This is despite some important economic indicators like GDP and retail sales having returned to pre-recession levels. The slow recovery for charities could be a result of Americans new attitude towards fiscal responsibility, using more money to save or pay down debt. If they're being tighter with their finances, then they're probably donating less money to charity. And since individuals make up such a huge portion of total giving, their behavior matters. Of course, it doesn't help that the national unemployment rate remained near double-digits throughout the year either.