Trends in Philanthropy by Brian Gallagher, President & CEO, United Way Worldwide

For years, across our network, we have discussed the changes taking place in philanthropy.  We’ve talked about access to workplaces, economic conditions and competition from other non-profits.
Each United Way has its own story, successes and challenges, but in recent years there have been some unmistakable, industry-wide trends in the United States.  The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently shed light on many of these shifts in its October issue.  The Chronicle’s feature story, entitled “Breaking the Charity Habit,” touches on some of the realities facing our industry in the U.S. today.

Here are two of the Chronicle’s key points:

  • Fewer Americans are giving to charity: From 2000 to 2006, more than 30 percent of taxpayers reported a charitable gift to the IRS.  In 2015, just 24 percent of taxpayers reported a gift.
  • A greater share of giving is coming from high earners: Donations from households earning $200,000 or more currently make up 52 percent of all itemized contributions.  In the early 2000s, the percentage of contributions from $200,000-plus earners remained in the 30-percent range.

Taken together, these trends reveal that giving today in the U.S. (which makes up 76 percent of all United Way revenue worldwide) is increasingly dominated by a smaller number of wealthy contributors.  While these individual’s contributions are critical, I believe that widespread giving across incomes and geographies is necessary to build – and sustain – stronger communities.

The Chronicle identified numerous reasons for the decline in the number of Americans giving to charity:

  • The hollowing out of the middle class, resulting in less discretionary income
  • The recession – and memory of the recession – leading households to give less
  • Millennials failing to embrace traditional ways of giving, such as workplace campaigns
  • Charities focusing on high-income donor recognition and engagement, while neglecting small-dollar donors

Throughout our history, we have learned that the best way to create sustained change in communities is by engaging people of all ages and backgrounds as advocates, volunteers and donors.  As we navigate today’s charitable environment, this approach will remain vital to successfully fighting for the health, education and financial stability of every person in every community.
I’m excited to keep up our fight with you.  From United Way’s humble beginnings to today’s global presence, we have succeeded because we work with each other and a range of partners to best serve the evolving needs of our donors and the communities in which we live and work.  Today is no exception.
Thank you for everything you do and for continuing to Live United.

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