You may have seen the exciting numbers for Giving USA 2018. For the first time, charitable giving by individuals, bequests, foundations, and corporations in the U.S. has risen to over $400 billion ($410.02 billion to be exact), according to Giving USA 2018: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2017. You can find out more about the comprehensive and detailed report, but I sought to dig a little deeper and find out about the history and relationships that underlie the report. When did it begin? Who writes it, and what’s that experience like? What I uncovered was a huge project, with many intersecting and important partnerships that ensure thorough, applicable, and highly-regarded research and information.
For context, I spoke with Dr. Una Osili, associate dean for research and international programs at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Dr. Anna Pruitt, Giving USA Managing Editor, and Tessa Skidmore, Giving USA Visiting Research Associate.
First, Skidmore shared background information about the study. “Giving USA is the longest-running, most comprehensive annual report on charitable giving in the United States. The report was first created in 1956 by the American Association of Fundraising Council (today’s Giving Institute), which endeavors to advance philanthropy through research and education. Giving USA is now published by the Giving USA Foundation, established by the Giving Institute in 1985, and has been researched and written by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy since 2001,” she explained.
One component that the interviewees highlighted was the importance of collaboration. For example, information and data on foundations comes from the Foundation Center. “It’s an independent and very well-respected research institution,” Dr. Pruitt said. In addition, the school also partners with Blackbaud Institute to obtain data that offers context for Giving USA’s estimates in some of the chapters. “We use the most accurate and updated data, including data from the IRS, in order to strengthen the report,” Dr. Pruitt added.
And that’s just the data side. When it comes to writing the report, the school also relies on partnerships to ensure best practices and applicability for the nonprofit sector. It begins with the thorough vetting and selection of volunteer chapter authors, many of whom are alumni or current students at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. These master’s and Ph.D. students contribute strong analytical skills and expertise on various areas of giving, including religion, bequests, and other topics. “Many of them are fundraising professionals doing work in the field, so they bring unique expertise that really adds value to the chapters,” Skidmore explained.
“I think it speaks to our student base in general at the school,” Dr. Pruitt said. “We have people wanting to apply analytical and writing skills they’ve been learning immediately after graduating or during their time at the school.”
Next, the collaboration continues into the review stage. “We work very closely with an editorial review board, who are volunteers from Giving Institute member firms. They donate their time and expertise to review the chapters,” Dr. Pruitt stated. “They ensure that what they see in the field matches what we find from the academic research. They also provide applicable, actionable insights for how to use the information in the chapters in practice.”
The school also partners with an advisory council on methodology. “This council is made up of scholars from universities, think tanks, and other organizations. They advise and provide feedback on the data collection and analysis procedures used to produce the estimates that appear in Giving USA,” Dr. Osili explained.
In addition to individuals from Giving Institute member firms being involved with the editorial review board and advisory council on methodology, the Giving USA Foundation (established by the Giving Institute in 1985) serves as publisher of Giving USA and manages sales and marketing of the report.
What does all of this collaboration lead to? Strong research, strong data, and a strong report. “This report is so robust because of the many diverse levels of collaboration. In the long run, it’s to our benefit to have this rigorous process and research approach in order to ensure the best possible report,” Dr. Pruitt explained.
The result this year is a thorough, extensive report that shows that for the first time, charitable giving has topped $400 billion. In addition, giving by all four of the sources (individuals, foundations, corporations, and bequests) experienced growth, while giving to eight of the nine major types of recipient organizations increased. According to Dr. Pruitt, it’s an exciting time for the nonprofit sector. “There’s widespread growth in both the sources of giving and the areas those sources are donating to. This does not happen every year, and it tells us that people are giving to many different kinds of organizations. In other words, charitable giving is not all concentrated in one area. It’s an exciting time for philanthropy.”
For Skidmore, it reinforces ideas about the relationship between the economy and charitable giving. “When the economy is performing well and people are doing well financially, they give generously to the variety of causes that are of interest to them.”
For the researchers, the end product is well worth the time and collaborative effort spent on the report. “It’s a very reliable source for fundraisers and scholars,” Dr. Pruitt said. “It’s gratifying to know that it’s a resource people trust and one they turn to, regardless of their personal views. People across the board know they can rely on our data. In addition, I feel that it’s stronger because it’s such a deeply collaborative effort. It strengthens the project at every step because of these great long-term partnerships we have.”
“I enjoy the combination of very rigorous research and it also being a resource that people can use. It has wide applicability and accessibility across the sector,” Skidmore added. “It’s also exciting to see every year how patterns shift and to learn about the trends in each source and use of giving.”
Abby Rolland is the blog content coordinator for the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.