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Future Of Philanthropy

Americans Gave More Than $1 Billion A Day To Charity Last Year

On the other hand, corporate giving—as a percentage of total profits—is down.

Americans Gave More Than $1 Billion A Day To Charity Last Year

[Photo: Nick Stroh via Shutterstock]

Last year, Americans gave more than $1 billion a day to charity, once again setting a record for yearly donations. Total philanthropy reached $373.25 billion, a 4% increase from 2014, new figures from Giving USA show.

Of that, 71% (or $264.58 billion) came from individuals, with foundations contributing 16% ($58.46 billion) and the rest coming from bequests (9%; $31.76 billion), and corporations (5%; $18.45 billion). Growth in individual contributions was driven partly by big gifts like those from Mark Zuckerberg and others. Donations above $100 million-plus totaled at least $3.3 billion, but the $10, $20 and $25-type still make up the lion's share. As a nation, we're more likely to give to charity than to vote.

"The data for the past two years attest to those possibilities: for the first time in a decade, we saw a combined two-year, double-digit growth rate of 10.1% for 2014 and 2015, adjusted for inflation," says the report. "This increase in giving mirrored the generally positive growth during those years in both the overall economy and in most of the multiple economic factors that influence giving."

With philanthropists committing large parts of their fortunes to charity, some have suggested we're entering a "golden age of philanthropy." But the figures, while showing an increase in dollar amounts, are actually near historical norms. Last year, we donated 2.1% of gross domestic product to charity, slightly above the 40-year average of 1.9%.

Giving by corporations rose 3.9% last year compared to 2014. But, again, those figures aren't quite as impressive as they seem: As a percentage of profits, they're well down from previous eras. The level was 0.8% in 2015 but nearer 2% in the mid-1980s, figures show. Plus, a lot of that is in-kind products and services, like communications and health care, not cash.

Religious groups received the most ($119 billion) followed by education ($57 billion) and health services ($45 billion), according to the figures. As a category, "international affairs" rose most (17.5%), reaching $15.75 billion, in 2015. Foundations were the only group to see a decline (of 4%) compared to a year earlier, though they still amassed a whopping $42 billion in total.

See more from the survey here.

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