GivingUSA: Record Giving of $449B in 2019

Brian Gawor

Vice President of Research

June 16, 2020

GivingUSA 2020 has just been released. The annual report of national record on philanthropic giving gives us insights into the previous year’s giving. The data tells us that prior to the current economic and health crisis, charitable activity was at a peak. Key findings include:

  • Giving exceeded $449 billion, increasing 4.2% (2.4% after inflation)
  • 2019 was the second highest giving year on record.
  • Giving by individuals grew by 4.7% and continues to represent the biggest portion of giving, 69% of the total.
  • Education saw a 12.1% growth in giving. It was one of the top growth sectors.
  • Bequest giving was basically flat.

2019 was a great year for philanthropy. 2020 has been a different climate, with the impact of the global health crisis and a powerful movement for social change. Employment, the stock market, a national focus on justice and the upcoming election will all impact how much and where people give. But the fundamentals of donor engagement haven’t changed.

Here’s what I think GivingUSA means for our donor outreach strategy right now in the context of the current crisis and into the next fiscal year

Individuals continue to drive the majority of giving. And the trend of donors giving during their lifetime seems to be accelerating. GivingUSA also confirms that more and more philanthropic dollars are being concentrated from the wealthiest givers. Whether it’s building a donor base or converting on long standing relationships with your top capacity givers, your personal, individualized outreach strategies are key.

Education remained a top giving priority in 2019. It was a controversial year with an admission scandal and continuing public concern about college costs and the student loan crisis. But education remains a key source of meaning and purpose for Americans. The environment, arts and public-society benefit organizations also saw big increases, and since the work of faculty and students at your institution directly impacts these areas as well, work on crafting messages that include this important work.

Giving rose in 2019. It’s also tied to key economic indicators, which are not great for 2020. Giving as a percentage of both GDP and disposable income remains has remained at about 2% for over two decades. The stock market continues to greatly correlate with giving. Well, GDP, disposable income and the stock market have all taken hits this year. We’re going to see volatility in giving, and I know you are all experiencing that right now. Watch these indicators and adapt your messaging accordingly.

Telling the story of immediate need and the direct impact of giving are your top priorities as a fundraiser. We’ll see what happens with the economy as the health crisis and the election unfold, but a recession or economic pressures don’t always mean an decrease in giving. In fact, the needs of your community in this crisis can provide the reason to give. We saw that with the incredible response to student emergency funds. And institutions that continue to remain present with donors have done pretty well with fundraising. Making giving easy, fun and social are also crucial.

Many fundraisers are facing budget and staff cuts, uncertainty about life on campus and almost no in-person events with the need for social distancing. It’s not time to sit on our hands and wait it out. It’s time to look critically at our donor engagement resources, and find ways to innovate and increase ROI. That’s going to require shifts to remote, integrated and digital communications.

What GivingUSA tells us is that in 2019, giving continued rocket at the height of the recovery from the Great Recession. We’re in more uncertain times now, but there is ample room to engage donors directly and personally to channel their passion for supporting education. Americans give robustly, and even now they continue give to help students, educators and the social impact of our institutions.

Check out the full GivingUSA press release, and buy the full report. It’s a great tool to help stay up on trends and help in planning. The research work done by the group of passionate philanthropy enthusiasts at the Giving Institute and the Lily School of Philanthropy is excellent. GivingUSA also has great content on what’s happening right now in philanthropy, including messaging during a crisis, working with volunteers, and insights from previous times of economic challenge.

Your outreach to donors in cost-effective, personalized and high impact ways is crucial to meet your FY21 goals. Drop us a line here at RNL and we’ll talk about your goals and how new technology and approaches can help meet them.

About the Author

Brian Gawor

Brian Gawor’s focus is research and strategy to help propel both alumni engagement and fundraising results of RNL clients. Brian has 20 years of higher education experience in student affairs, enrollment management, alumni engagement and...

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