Charitable Giving Grew During 2020, with Giving By Individuals as the Backbone

Despite 2020 being a year of unprecedented events and challenges, total giving to U.S. charities reached a record $471 billion in 2020, an increase over the $449 billion contributed in 2019. When adjusted for inflation, total giving increased 3.8%. This level of charitable giving equates to almost $1.3 billion per day.

The analysis comes from Giving USA 2021: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2020. Giving USA is the longest-running and most comprehensive report on the sources and uses of charitable giving in America.

“Remarkably … 2020 is the highest year of charitable giving on record,” said Laura MacDonald, CFRE, chair of Giving USA Foundation and Principal and Founder of Benefactor Group.

“In some ways, 2020 is a story of uneven impact and uneven recovery. Many wealthier households were more insulated from the effects of COVID-19 and the ensuing economic shock, and they may have had greater capacity to give charitably than households and communities that were disproportionately affected and struggled financially,” said Amir Pasic, Ph.D., the Eugene R. Tempel Dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, the university involved in analyzing the data. “Similarly, growth in the S&P 500 in recent years and the market recovery in 2020 positioned foundations to respond to the year’s challenges, with the result that giving by foundations reached its largest-ever share of total giving, at 19%.”

The totals include donations from individuals, bequests, foundations, and corporations. The largest of those groups is giving by individuals, which totaled $324 billion in 2020, an increase of 1% when adjusted for inflation. Thus individuals continue to be the backbone of U.S. charitable giving.

The report also analyzes giving by nine different sectors. Giving USA’s “religion” sector, with $131 billion in contributions, was virtually unchanged between 2019 and 2020 when adjusted for inflation. But Giving USA’s definition of religion is narrowly limited to individual houses of worship, religious media, mission organizations, and denominational bodies. Many ECFA members would be found in other Giving USA sectors including education and human services.

For related ECFA “News” see First Quarter of 2021 Offers Good News for Nonprofits. See also ECFA’s survey report, “Remarkable Resilience: The 2021 Financial Outlook for Churches and Ministries.”

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.