Ten Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Philanthropy in The USA


Magazine article

1. Imagine total charitable giving in the USA as a stack of dollar bills, 125 feet wide by 200 feet deep and as tall as the London Eye. That $316 billion represents about 2 percent of GDP (a number that has held relatively steady for the past 30 years), and about three times as much as the next closest country, the United Kingdom.

2.There are more than 76,000 foundations in the USA today, with combined assets of over a $half trillion, giving away about $47 billion each year, representing 14 percent of total USA charitable giving.

3.In the early 20th century, philanthropists such as Rockefeller, Carnegie and Sage pioneered a more business-like approach to philanthropy in stark contrast to the traditional charity of that time, an approach which began with deep learning about root problems. This new breed of foundations pursued their philanthropy with “clearly define objectives, benchmarks for progress, and methods for collecting data and measuring impact” notes philanthropy scholar Joel Flieshman. The approach, however, did not catch on in “main stream” giving at that time.

4. It would not be until the late 20th century when the same concepts practiced by the Rockefellers and Carnegies would come back into vogue. Characterized by the re-orientation from reactive to proactive, “strategic philanthropy” has now grown to also integrate careful planning and execution with philosophy, passion and values.

5. While “family” foundations are not a legal entity, over half of all private foundations have donor or donor-relatives named in their governance and, it is likely that a much higher percentage would be considered family foundations. Over a third of all family foundations have been established since the millenium.

6. Community foundations exist in nearly 750 communities. Ten currently hold over $1 billion in assets each. Representing about 9% of all foundation giving, community foundations are more likely to fund arts and culture, education and religion and less likely to fund international affairs and public affairs than independent and corporate foundations.

7. Corporate foundation giving levels have rebounded from the 2008 economic downturn more quickly than giving levels from independent or community foundations due to record corporate profit levels. Nearly 60% of companies reporting to the Center to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy gave more in 2013 than in 2007. Education, health, and social services receive the most corporate and corporate foundation donations.

8. Corporations are increasingly giving their employee’s time as an integral part of their philanthropic efforts. Employee volunteerism programs cited as most successful by companies include: paid release time to volunteer; “dollars for doers” programs that award grants to nonprofits in recognition of employees who volunteer at those nonprofits; and, company-wide days of service.

9.International philanthropy has seen a tremendous rise in popularity. USA giving to international affairs grew 552 percent from 1987 to 2012 while giving to all other charities grew by just 82 percent. In 2011, over 11 percent of donors identified international issues as the most important issue to them.

10. Across every income group, female-headed households are more likely to give to charity than male-headed households. In both the lowest income quintile and the highest income quintile, women give almost twice as much as men.


The Foundation Center - foundationcenter.org
Center for Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy - cecp.co
The Philanthropic Initiative - tpi.org
Oiver Zunz - history.virginia.edu
Joel Flieshman - philvol.sanford.duke.edu

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  • Philanthropy Advice
  • Promoting philanthropy