Giving USA 2023: Understanding trends the key to 2022 giving data

The news is out regarding philanthropic giving for the year 2022, and while overall numbers declined, it seems things could have been worse.

Each summer, the Giving USA Foundation releases a report outlining trends and patterns across the spectrum of philanthropic giving. The nation’s longest-running, most comprehensive report on philanthropy is a 350-plus page report that provides in-depth analysis on total charitable giving, giving by sources and giving to major recipient categories. In addition, each chapter provides strategic insights into the latest giving trends and facts.

Melissa S. Brown

Annual giving for 2021, coming out of the emotional roller coaster of the pandemic, was the highest on record. Given high inflation and a mediocre stock market in late 2022, a 3.4% decline in donations last year (-10.5% adjusted for inflation) was not unexpected, according to presenter Melissa S. Brown, who shared insights into the data today at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

“I was not surprised by the results,” Brown said.

For the 20th year, Melissa Brown – former editor of Giving USA and respected consulting researcher – came to Cincinnati to present her findings and analysis in the event hosted by The Yunker Group, a local strategic advisory and executive search firm. (Movers & Makers served as media sponsor.) Brown’s in-depth analysis is intended to help attendees – philanthropic officers and board members of regional nonprofits – understand what is behind the new data and create action plans for moving forward.

The overall 2022 total for philanthropic contributions was $499.33 billion, 64% of which came from individuals, and 27% of which went to religious causes. Both have been historically the largest categories for donors and recipients. 

Economic uncertainty and a “resettling” to normal were viewed as primary factors in this year’s decline. When people have less confidence in the economy the following take’s place, according to Brown:

  • People who own stocks hold onto what they have.
  • People who intended to make gifts of appreciated stock hold off until prospects improve.
  • Foundations, who invest their funds and are required to give away a percentage (typically 5%) each year, adjust to meet the market.

The most surprising change in this year’s data, Brown indicated, was the ascension of human services to the No. 2 recipient category, behind religion, thanks in part to a dip in giving to education. 

The fact that giving to human services organizations continues to rise as a percentage of the total indicates that, “People are finding real value in their communities by the services delivered, such as food banks, youth development organizations…” Brown said. “I’ve been doing this for 23 years now and I was stunned when I saw that human services was second after religion.”

Giving to support arts, culture and humanities, while still the No. 8 category at $24.67 billion, increased 2.9%.

What does Brown view as a key takeaway this year?

“People give when they understand the need and they see the impact the organization can make. It’s our jobs as fundraisers to make sure our constituents know what we’re doing, how we’re using their money, and how it’s making a difference in people’s lives.”

In terms of how and where to communicate your organization’s message, “Consistency, to keep the same brand, to keep the same core message, is really important,” she said. But different people learn in different ways, so a variety of media is important. “Surround people with your message.”

Also, make it easy for people to give. “People want frictionless giving,” Brown said. “Make it as easy as you can.”

From what sources did the generosity come? 

Individuals64%$319.04 billion↓ 6.4% compared to 2021
Foundations21%$105.21↑ 2.5%
Bequests9%$45.06↑ 2.3%
Corporations6%$21.08↑ 3.4%

Where did the charitable dollars go?

Religion27%$143.57 billion↑ 5.2% compared to 2021
Human Services14%$71.98↓ 0.2%
Education13%$70.07↓ 3.6%
Foundations11%$56.84↑ 10.1%
Health10%$51.08↑ 5.1%
Public-Society Benefit9%$46.86↓ 8.4%
International Affairs6%$33.71↑ 10.9%
Arts/Culture/Humanities5%$24.67↑ 2.9%
Environment/Animals3%$16.10↓ 1.6%
Individuals2%$12.98↑ 0.6%

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