Charitable giving rose for the fifth year in a row in 2014, rebounding past a prerecession peak to an estimated $358 billion, according to an annual report from the Giving USA Foundation.
The report, “Giving USA 2015: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2014,” shows that contributions rose in all categories -- individuals, corporations, foundations and bequests -- making up for ground lost during the economic downturn.
After reaching $355 billion in 2007, giving dropped 15 percent to $303 billion in 2009, according to the Giving USA data, which is figured in inflation-adjusted dollars.
“The Great Recession was really a double whammy in the sense that there were more individuals who had greater need - there were more people who were unemployed, more people who were hungry, more people who were homeless -- at the same time that there were substantially fewer resources,” said Patrick Rooney, associate dean for research and academic affairs at Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, which researched and wrote the report. “We’re now back to where we were before that. All the sources are growing, some more rapidly than others, but they’re all growing at pretty reasonable rates.”
The increase in individual giving, at $258.5 billion, accounted for 54 percent of the growth, up from $249 billion in 2013. Donations included several large gifts from the high-tech world, such as a $1.9 billion contribution from Bill and Melinda Gates to their foundation.
Younger entrepreneurs also gave big. Sean Parker donated $550 million to his foundation and his donor-advised fund at Fidelity, and Jill and Nicholas Woodman gave $500 million and Jan Koum gave $556 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.
“People are giving at relatively early points in their life cycle,” Rooney said. “If they’re making these big commitments early, it’s a bold step. That’s pretty different than doing that on your deathbed.”
The overall increase in giving of 5.4 percent over 2013 was not spread evenly over all categories. Arts, culture and humanities enjoyed the highest increase, 7.4 percent, and international affairs accounted for the only drop, 3.6 percent. Increases were about 3 to 5 percent for other categories like education, the environment, public-society benefit and health.
The increase for arts, culture and humanities is in part a reflection of donors reallocating gifts away from human services, where needs are now seen as less dire as the economy recovers. Giving in that category grew by only 1.9 percent in 2014, a slowdown from the recession years.
Giving to religious organizations has declined over time as a share of the total, the report shows, as fewer Americans identify with a religion, attend worship services or give to houses of worship, a trend the researchers expect to continue.
Giving to education remained robust, with several multimillion-dollar gifts. Two gifts exceeding $100 million went toward medical research on university campuses.
Still, Rooney said there was room for contributions to grow. Corporate giving, for instance, grew by 12 percent, to $17.8 billion, but represented 0.7 percent of profits. Giving overall grew to 2.1 percent of gross domestic product from 2 percent. It has hovered between 2.1 and 1.7 percent for 40 years.
“We’re still talking about this very narrow bandwidth,” he said. “Philanthropy is a voluntary activity so we can’t say you have to give more, but the question is, For the most affluent nation in an affluent period, should we be giving more?”