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Philanthropy’s Double Dip: Giving Numbers Tumble for Second Straight Year

By Tom Watson on June 10, 20107 Comments

Giving in the U.S. dropped for the second straight year in 2009, reflecting the depth of the American recession, and a slight drop in individual giving but a steep decline in foundation philanthropy. The annual numbers from the Giving USA Foundation, which has measured U.S. philanthropy since 1956, revealed on the second two-year decline in giving since the statistics have been gathered and the second largest  single year drop since the oil embargo of the mid-1970s.

Foundations in particular pulled in their resources in the face of economic challenge, leading the way in drying up charitable resources with an 8.6 percent decline in giving. By contrast, American individuals barely registered a drop – just 0.4 percent, for a recession-defying total of  $227.41 billion – or a zero percent change when adjusted for inflation.

In all, charitable giving declined 3.6 percent to $303.75 billion in 2009, down from a revised total of $315.08 billion for 2008 (late-reported large bequests changed the ‘08 numbers).

“Even in a time of enormous economic upheaval, such as we saw in 2009, Americans continued to be generous to charitable causes,” said Giving USA Foundation Chair Edith H. Falk. “While  overall giving declined, many donors—including individuals and foundations—made special efforts in 2009 to respond to greater humanitarian needs.”

Though still a tiny portion of the philanthropic pie, corporate charity actually increased quite a bit last year, according to Giving USA – to an estimated $14.1 billion, up 5.5 percent (5.9 percent adjusted for inflation) or pretty close to its pre-recession level.

Nonetheless, coupled with the steep rise in the number of U.S. nonprofits – more than 1.2 million IRS-registered charities and an estimated additional 350,000 American religious congregations – the numbers mean the nonprofit sector is under more stress than ever. Add to that the depressed budgets at the state level, and the picture is clearly one of challenging times.

Gifts to health and human services, environmental causes, and overseas aid all grew – while religion (which still accounts for a third of all giving), education, and the arts all declined. “This focus on vital needs is consistent with what historians tell us happened during the Great Depression,” said Patrick M. Rooney,  Ph.D., executive director of the Center on Philanthropy.

Meanwhile, fundraising software company Convio released its numbers for online giving last – and they show a 14-percent gain in contributions received online. Convio analyzed data from 499 organizations, found that 92 percent of the charities received more donations online in 2009 than in 2008, and 69 percent saw increased revenue from online giving.

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