ARTICLE: Insights from Giving USA 2018: Charitable Giving Growth & Trends

June 12, 2018 Steve MacLaughlin

Charitable Giving Continued to Grow in 2017

According to Giving USA, individuals, estates, corporations, and foundations donated an estimated $410.02 billion to charitable causes in the United States during 2017. This is an increase of 5.2% and 3.0% adjusted for inflation compared to 2016. Earlier this year, the Blackbaud Institute’s Charitable Giving Report estimated that charitable giving in US was up approximately 4.1% on a year over year basis.

Giving USA is the longest-running report of charitable giving in the United States and has been an important tool for nonprofit professionals to understand what is happening across the sector. The latest Giving USA report provides additional details about charitable giving and philanthropic trends.

Charitable giving in 2017 surpassed $410.02 billion for the first time. This growth in giving can be attributed to an increase in giving by individuals during 2017. Giving USA estimates that 70% of charitable giving came from individuals and they increased their giving by $14.47 billion in 2017. A combination of a strong economic environment and stabilized household finances, especially among wealthy Americans, is noted in the report as a primary driver of giving growth.


A few things stand out in this year’s Giving USA report. First, there is another slight increase in giving by foundations to 16% and bequests to 9% of giving compared prior years. Giving by corporations held steady at 5% in 2017.

Charitable giving to religious organizations continues to represent the largest piece of the giving pie at 31%. This is followed by 14% for education, 12% to human services, and 11% of giving goes to foundations. Yes, there are minor changes in the distribution from prior years but no dramatic changes in the data.

Giving as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) continues to hover around 2.1% for the past six years. If GDP remained constant, it would take about $74 billion in additional giving to reach 2.5%. Time and resources would be better spent on increasing the share of giving from personal disposable income. In 2017, that figure was 2.0% and has had no significant change in decades.

Giving USA also notes the potential impact on giving by natural disasters, episodic events, and tax policy changes. While some organizations have seen increased giving, the aggregate nature of Giving USA’s estimates don’t allow for data to show specific impact.


Estimates of giving by both Giving USA and the Blackbaud Institute continue to show single digit growth rates on a year-over-year basis. Through April 2018, the Blackbaud Index estimates that charitable giving is up 4.7% compared to 2017.

We also know from a broad set of research and trend analysis that giving is changing. Donors continue to increase their preference to give through donor advised funds (DAFs) and online giving continues to grow at double-digit rates. Through April 2018, online giving was up more than 10.6% on a year-over-year basis.

Donor acquisition, retention, engagement, and stewardship still remain of utmost importance to drive charitable giving. These research initiatives give nonprofit organizations an opportunity to compare their own performance to broader trends. Continued growth in giving is dependent on a focus on performance improvement across a wide range of areas.

The Blackbaud Institute for Philanthropic Impact will be releasing a number of webinars in the upcoming weeks that cover report highlights and dive into vertical-specific insights in higher education, arts and cultural, faith-based, and more with a range of experts across the sector. You can sign up to be notified when these webinars are available here.

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