American giving to charity stayed relatively flat last year following a record-breaking year in 2017 of nearly $425 billion in contributions, according to the Giving USA 2019 report. Total contributions grew .7%, but when adjusted for inflation, resulted in a decline of 1.7% for a year that included significant changes in tax policy as well as a stock market decline in the late part of the year.
The annual report evaluates trends in individual giving, bequests, foundations and corporations that make charitable gifts. The report is published by Giving USA Foundation and researched by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Details of the report, which are often used by charitable fundraisers throughout the nation, can be obtained at www.GivingUSA.org.
Many researchers were concerned over how the federal tax changes that doubled deductions available for taxpayers would affect charitable givers. More than 45 million households itemized deductions in 2016 and some studies suggested that figure could drop to 20 million households or less. One of the aims of the tax policy change was to reduce the number of taxpayers who itemize and instead allow them increased deductions. Some stakeholders worry that the decline in households itemizing expenses could result in a reduced incentive for charitable giving and the resulting deductions that were previously available. The full impact of the tax law changes are not expected to be understood for several years, according to the report’s authors.
There was strong growth in giving from foundations which accounted for 18% of total giving last year. Foundations gave nearly $76 billion, a 7.3% increase from the prior year. Giving by individuals, $292 billion, accounted for 68% of the total amount contributed last year, down from 70% in 2017. Corporate giving increased by 5.4% to just over $20 billion. Giving by bequests stayed relatively flat with nearly $40 billion for charitable organizations. The growth in the foundation and corporate giving categories helped to soften some of the declines in other categories.
International affairs, environment and animal organizations experienced substantial growth in giving last year. Giving to religion declined last year following several years of modest growth.