20 million fewer individuals were giving to charitable organizations in 2016 vs. 2002.

20 Million People Stopped Giving to Charity

20 Million People Stopped Giving to Charity

by Bill High

Between 2000 and 2016, 20 million Americans stopped giving directly to charitable organizations.

That’s the report from the Urban Institute’s Shena Ashley in “Why the Decline in Individual Donors Should Matter in Institutional Philanthropy—and What to Do About It,” published in NonProfit Quarterly Winter 2019 edition.

The data reflect the growing trend.

In 2016, 53.9% of American households donated something to charity. That was down by nearly 14% from the peak in 2002, at 67.6%, according to data presented by Patrick Rooney in “Where Have All the Donors Gone? The Continued Decline of the Small Donor and the Growth of Megadonors,” also in NPQ‘s Winter 2019 edition. (The numbers come from Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s Philanthropy Panel Study, part of the University of Michigan’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics.)

Stated differently, one in five former donors are not giving anything to organized nonprofits in any given year.

Furthermore, the 2017 Tax Act, with the increased standard deduction, led to lower incentives for itemizing. Forbes anticipated that 90% of taxpayers would take the standard deduction for 2019 and 2020. While any effects of that change are not reflected in the data cited above, it seems likely to further decrease the number of people who stop giving.

In that vein, giving to religious congregations has continued a similar downward trend. There’s been almost a 1/3 decline in the number of givers to religious congregations between 2000 and 2016.

This decline in the number of givers has been masked by the continued growth in total dollar amounts given each year. In fact, Giving USA’s most recent report told us that giving went up to $449.64 billion in 2019.

There are fewer givers but those givers are giving more per donor.


Fewer Givers: Cause for Concern

Just a few quick thoughts on this trend of stopped giving. While some might be happy with the fact that gift size is going up, it represents a dangerous trend for the overall future of charitable giving.

First, individual givers reflect the lifeblood of many organizations, which raises questions about their future viability.

Moreover, giving by individuals reflects an overall culture of generosity. Giving by the few (or the fewer) cuts against the cultural notion. Individual acts of genuine generosity can inspire generosity in others in an individual’s network of relationships. Conversely, if you don’t know anyone who gives, you’ll be less likely to give yourself. Our actions affect others directly and indirectly in so many ways.

Finally, reliance on major gifts can be a roll of the dice. If one falls through, an organization could tumble from existence.

Our goal should be to continue to foster the growth in number of individual givers. By doing so, we’ll foster a society in which those in need can best be served.



Photo by Igal Ness on Unsplash

Share this Post

If you enjoyed this content and would like to receive updates via email, please subscribe.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Published July 15, 2020

Topics: Giving Trends

American ValuesCharitable GivingGenerosityGiving TrendsMajor Donors

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *