Giving USA: Charitable giving topped $400B in 2017, but small nonprofits need help

'We can't all be Gates'
Why $410B in charitable giving isn't enough
Posted at 10:00 AM, Jun 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-12 10:00:19-04

CINCINNATI -- Americans gave a whopping $410.02 billion to charities in 2017, according to a new report from Giving USA.

But don’t think that means your favorite local charity or religious organization is flush with cash.

Last year’s biggest charitable gifts went to big nonprofit organizations, such as universities, hospitals and foundations, that have robust fundraising departments, said Melissa Brown, a leading researcher in philanthropic giving and principal of Melissa S. Brown & Associates.

“The ordinary charities that most people support with their philanthropic gifts are the ones that saw the slowest rate of growth,” Brown told WCPO. “The charities that are closest to many people’s values on how to make the world better are, in fact, lagging.”

Brown was in Cincinnati Tuesday morning for the 15th annual local presentation of Giving USA’s annual report on charitable giving. The local presentation, organized by The Yunker Group, is important to help local funders and nonprofit organizations understand the big philanthropic picture, said Jim Yunker, The Yunker Group’s president and CEO.

Giving USA 2018: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the year 2017 noted that last year was the first time charitable giving topped $400 billion in the United States.

“The increase in giving in 2017 was generated in part by increases in the stock market, as evidence by the nearly 20 percent growth in the S&P 500. Investment returns funded multiple very large gifts, most of which were given by individuals to their foundations, including two gifts of $1 billion or more,” Amir Pasic, dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, said in a news release. “This tells us that some of our most fortunate citizens are using their wealth to make some significant contributions to the common good.”

Other highlights of the report:

• Giving by individuals represented 70 percent of total giving.

• Giving by foundations has shown strong growth for the past seven years.

• Corporate giving was bolstered by $405 million in contributions related to disaster relief.

By the numbers:

• Individuals gave an estimated total of $286.65 billion

• Foundation giving increased 6 percent to an estimated $66.9 billion.

• Bequests totaled $35.7 billion.

• And corporate giving totaled an estimated $20.77 billion.

Despite the big national numbers, giving to local nonprofit organizations is more important than ever, said former United Way of Greater Cincinnati CEO Rob Reifsnyder.

“The share of Americans donating to charity is falling,” he said, quoting from an article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. “From 66 percent in 2000 to 56 percent in 2014.”

That has charities scrambling to reach the people that care about their missions and can give even small amounts to help keep them going.

The Giving USA numbers could seem intimidating to people and families that do their charitable giving $25 or $100 at a time, but Yunker said they shouldn’t.

Even small gifts, he said, matter a lot to the nonprofit organizations that receive them.

“They can all add up,” Yunker said. “And if the organizations have a strong case for support that shows the benefit that the donors can make to their community, I think that’s really the name of the game.”

The fact that individual giving makes up the majority of philanthropic gifts in the U.S. surprises people ever year, he said. 

“That just shows the importance of people talking to their friends and spreading the message on a personal level and local level,” Yunker said. “We can’t all be Gates.”

From left, Melissa Brown, Rob Reifsnyder, Ellen Katz and Jim Yunker spoke at the local June 12 Giving USA briefing at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

Details from Giving USA 2018: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the year 2017 are available on the Giving USA website.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To read more stories by Lucy, go to To reach her, email Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.