Giving in America has received far more coverage than usual in the past year, as Wall Street upheavals, economic doldrums, and terrorist attacks have made the headlines. The daily flow of information has provided a roller coaster ride of numbers, but fortunately Giving USA 2002 is now available to help make sense of all the numbers.
Giving USA, now written by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, has been following giving in America for 47 years. Published by the American Association of Fundraising Council Trust for Philanthropy, the report estimates “philanthropic giving to charitable organizations in the United States, including houses of worship and their national headquarters, from four sources: living individuals; ‘bequest’ gifts that have matured; foundations; and corporations.” It does not estimate nonprofit revenue from other charitable organizations (such as United Way), from fees for services, from payments that are not tax-deductible as gifts, from gross proceeds from special events, or from membership dues. Recipients of this giving are divided into ten charitable sectors: arts, culture, and humanities; education; environment/animals; health; human services; international affairs; public/societal benefit; religion related; mutual/membership benefit; and unknown.
This year’s guide compares giving in the wake of the 2001 recession with the seven other recession years since 1971. Some of the observations were expected: in inflation-adjusted dollars, giving to health and education dropped, as it has in most recession years. Similarly, giving by corporations fell by 14.5 percent, a drop that was smaller than the drop in pretax profits. “Because of this, corporate giving is 1.3 percent of pretax profits, a higher level than last year.” The surprise this year was that there was “an inflation-adjusted increase for religion, a subsector where giving grew in three recession years since 1971.”
Giving USA dedicates a special section to the events of September 11 and the effect on philanthropy. By the end of the year, some $1.88 billion dollars had been donated on behalf of victims of the attack—two-thirds of that from individuals. In all, more than 200 organizations received gifts. Many of these, according to the report, were newly formed. The four largest recipients were the American Red Cross, the September 11th Fund, the New York Firefighters Disaster Relief Fund, and the Twin Towers Fund. Together, these four groups received some $1.4 billion.
The September 11 funds did not come without controversy, and Giving USA provides an excellent case study of the problems faced at the American Red Cross. But the crisis also brought with it some significant discussion of changes in giving. “Foundation grantmakers. . . began considering funding for approaches to long-term issues brought to light by the terrorist attacks,” such as funding public policy initiatives on international security, grants for human rights and civil liberties protections, and grants for health care and security infrastructure.
Gifts to September 11 causes by the corporate community were particularly strong in the wake of the attacks. Businesses gave to these causes an amount equal to nearly 4.5 percent of total corporate giving in 2001.
In the end, however, the strength of American giving was shown not by how much outpouring of cash came on the heels of the terrorists attacks, but by the fact that these enormous sums were only a small percentage of total giving in the United States. “As stunning as the outpouring of financial support, volunteer time, and heartfelt gifts was,” writes Leo P. Arnoult, chairman of the AAFRC Trust for Philanthropy, “it totaled less than one percent of all charitable contributions in 2001,” which amounted to a non-inflation-adjusted record $212 billion. Arnoult concludes that “the gifts made in the aftermath of September 11 constitute a high point in the history of philanthropy, more so for the values they demonstrated than for the actual dollars they generated.”