Americans remained among the world’s most charitable people last year, increasing their donations 5% despite pandemic-induced shutdowns, layoffs and economic turmoil, a survey released Tuesday found.
Individuals, bequests, foundations and corporations gave an estimated $471.44 billion to U.S. charities in 2020, according to “Giving USA 2021: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2020.”
“Total charitable giving grew 5.1% measured in current dollars over the revised total of $448.66 billion contributed in 2019. Adjusted for inflation, total giving increased 3.8%,” states the survey, which has been published each year since 1956 and is billed as “the longest running, most comprehensive report on philanthropy in America.”
Individual giving increased 2.2% to $324.10 billion. Although that was the highest total dollar figure to date, the Giving USA report said, it “comprised less than 70% of total giving for the third consecutive year.”
Charitable foundations donated an estimated $88.5 billion, a 17% increase over 2019’s total and the category’s “highest-ever dollar amount,” according to the survey. Bequests totaled $41.19 billion in 2020, up 10.3% from 2019, but corporate giving dropped 6.1%, to $16.88 billion, last year.
Giving to religion, one of the largest donation categories, totaled $131.08 billion in 2020, up 1% before being adjusted for inflation. After those adjustments, religious giving was down 0.2% from 2019, the survey reported.
Donations to education and human services rose. Education got a 9% hike, to $71.34 billion, aided by megadonor MacKenzie Scott’s gifts to historically Black colleges and universities and donations to American Indians, Hispanic communities and community colleges. Human services giving increased by 9.7%, totaling $65.14 billion.
Donations to environmental and animal welfare charities increased 11.6%, to $16.14 billion, but donations to arts, culture and humanities groups fell 7.5%, to $19.47 billion.
In an interview with The Washington Times, Laura MacDonald, chair of the Giving USA Foundation, credited the end-of-year rebound in the stock market for much of the rise.
“I was pleasantly surprised by the strength of giving in 2020,” said Ms. MacDonald, a principal and founder of the consulting firm Benefactor Group. “I think that to a large degree, the recovery of the stock market, which really built up momentum toward the end of the year, played a significant role in that, particularly in some of the largest gifts that are given.”
Ms. MacDonald also emphasized the importance of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in keeping the economy afloat and creating a “strong environment” for giving.
“Without the CARES Act, we would have seen in an even steeper decline in GDP, we might not have seen the return of the equity market, we likely would have seen a greater decline in disposable personal income,” she said.
Una Osili, associate dean for research and international programs at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, worked on the study and pointed to several factors for the leveling-off in religious giving. She cited lockdowns that canceled religious services as a primary factor.
“Reduced attendance often leads to less contributions,” said Ms. Osili, adding that congregations that increased their online presence fared better.
She cited the rise of “nones,” people without religious affiliation, as a factor. A Gallup report in March found for the first time that less than 50% of Americans said they were affiliated with a religious community.
“Younger households are less likely to attend services and affiliate,” Ms. Osili said. “A very large [part] of charitable giving overall is correlated with attending services frequently, and also [with religious] affiliation.
“We do have this concern that as fewer households affiliate and attend services, that has an impact on their giving to congregations,” she added. “So there is concern about religious giving, growing more slowly over time than it has in the past.”