Americans Giving at Record Numbers

John ArmstrongDonors and Funding

Charitable giving in America has risen for the third consecutive year. The picture behind this recent report is rather interesting. Due to the absence of natural disasters, both nationally and internationally, large giving to major relief projects declined. Giving to human services also fell. The giving of corporate America rose only 1.5%. But in a shift from previous years giving to the arts and to cultural and humanities organizations grew rather significantly. The lion’s share of giving is still done by individuals, not by foundations, bequests and corporations. In fact, individual giving was about four times the amount given by all of these other sources combined, demonstrating once again that when individuals have the freedom to gain wealth they are enabled to share. But, as always, the largest percentage of giving was not among the rich. (This comment is not one meant to oppose affluence since there are several reasons why this remains true, and not all of these reasons suggest that the rich are universally uncharitable in the least. There is not a simple pattern here to explain this fact.)

Philanthropy in general, and especially religious philanthropy, remains about the same as in previous years. The single biggest category of charitable giving in the United States also remains the same, year-in-and-year-out. Donations to religious congregations and missions was 32.8% of the total, which reflects a rise of 4.5% to $96.82 billion. Giving to education, and a great deal of this is private religious education, was the second largest category, rising 9.8% to $40.98 billion. Probably most of the readers of this blog gave to both categories heavily in 2006.

The rise in the stock market also seems to have had a positive impact on giving as more and more private foundations gave larger amounts in 2006. Foundations give grants and these are often larger if the market prospers. This accounted for 14.2% of the total charitable giving in 2006 and again a great deal of this, I am quite sure, went to religiously based charities.

Charitable bequests are actually declining as more and more people are urged to give larger sums before they die. By this means they can keep a closer eye on what happens to their money and how it is actually spent. They also get the satisfaction of seeing how their money really helped others. Of course, pride can lurk nearby but this is a matter of the heart that must be left to God alone in terms of dealing with the sin.

Charitable giving made up 2.2% of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2006. Warren Buffett got the headlines last year for giving away $1.9 billion of his personal fortune. (I have real doubts about the long-term good of what he is investing this money in but I commend him for giving it, whatever the reason.) The chairman of the Giving USA Foundation cautioned that we realize one again that small gifts are just as important to the health of the non-profit sector as out-sized ones. The simple reason is that there are far more of them. To illustrate this point he noted that 65% of individual giving comes from homes with less than $100,000 in annual income, adding, "That’s an important nuance." Importance nuance for sure!

It is the last paragraph that interested me the most since I direct a non-profit ministry that depends on the generous gifts of people who earn less than $100,000. (I would make an educated guess that less than 10% of the donors to ACT earn more than this figure annually.) I wish that I could convince more people that many people giving smaller amounts—$25, $50 and $100 a month—can make all the difference in the world to an organization like ACT 3. 

I welcome you comments and your gifts. Both are needed. If you would like to help us you can go to our Web site at We have a new, easy-to-navigate, donation feature on our home page that will allow both one-time gifts and regularly scheduled gifts. I am immensely grateful for readers who help us in whatever way that they can. Our need is not huge but our heart is genuinely filled with gratitude for all our friends.

And remember, a free-market society, rooted in altruism, is still a major part of what makes America a great nation. Give thanks for all charitable giving, which exceeds that of any nation in history, and thank God for the prosperity that we all enjoy. Even if you are among the lower class economically in America you still live much better than 97% of the rest of the world. And if you have more money than most this should not produce guilt in you, which serves no charitable purpose in the end. Be filled with gratitude and learn to be a better steward. Out of this gratitude give abundantly and cheerfully. God is honored. Affluence can do great good. Use it wisely!