Two years ago, the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy launched GenerosityForLife.org, a comprehensive website dedicated to inspiring generosity long-term. Using the Give-O-Meter data tool, you can compare your own giving and volunteering to others in a similar age group, income bracket, education level, and U.S. region of residence.
You can explore giving in different areas of the United States with the Generosity Maps tool, learn about the Philanthropy Panel Study (PPS) that powers the data and information on the site, discover current research about generosity, craft student projects and lesson plans, and watch donor stories about why those individuals give, among other activities available on the site.
This December, GenerosityForLife.org was updated to include the most recent wave of PPS data and trends in giving (the 2017 wave about giving in 2016). All data tools have been updated and new Fact Sheets and generosity research videos have been added to the site.
In addition, a new research brief titled 16 Years of Charitable Giving Research details findings from the PPS and is available on the website.
“We thought it would be helpful to highlight what we’ve learned from the newly-available PPS data and by illustrating our findings in this research brief, in addition to updating the data and tools on the website,” Dr. Chelsea Clark, research associate, explained.
While Dr. Clark and Xiao Han, research associate, explained that there are multiple ways to study generosity, the research brief looks at change in giving incidence (the percentage of American households that give) and the average amounts given (by donor households only) across the 16-year timeframe for which PPS data are available.
Dr. Clark and Han found that there was a significant decline in the percentage of American households who gave to charity from 2000 to 2016. Approximately 66.22 percent of households gave in 2000, while 53.09 percent donated in 2016. Similarly, both secular giving rates and religious giving rates declined significantly during the same timeframe.
However, households who donated gave approximately the same amount (adjusted for inflation) overall in 2016 compared to 2000. The secular giving amount also remained constant, while the average amount of religious giving by donor households increased between 2000 and 2016.
Then, the researchers explored giving incidences and amounts by charitable subsector, analyzing the percentage of all households that gave to the arts & culture, environment, international aid, neighborhood & community, youth, education, basic needs, health, and combined purpose charities (nonprofits with programs focused on multiple different areas).
The percentage of households giving to the arts, environment, and international causes remained steady from 2000 to 2016. All other subsectors experienced significant declines in the percentage of households that gave.
In terms of dollar amounts given by donor households, neighborhood and community-related organizations experienced growth in the 16 years. Giving amounts to the other subsectors remained steady; none declined.
Then, the team further broke down the data by focusing on giving by age cohorts, with age groups broken into five brackets: 30 and under, 31-40, 41-50, 51-60, and 61+. The researchers analyzed overall giving, secular giving, religious giving, and giving by charitable subsector through the lens of each age group comparing giving incidences and amounts in 2000 with 2016. (This data compares a 30-year-old in 2000 to a different 30-year-old in 2016. For example, 30-year-olds in 2000 are in the Gen X generation, while 30-year-olds in 2016 are millennials.)
“We found a significant decline in overall giving incidence for all five age groups when comparing 2000 with 2016,” Dr. Clark explained. “However, none of the age groups significantly decreased their average dollar amounts given between 2000 and 2016. Fewer households gave overall in 2016, but for those households who continued to give, we found that they gave at similar amounts compared to donor households in 2000.”
One example of where age cohorts differed in their giving behaviors was in terms of religious giving amounts. Individuals under 30, from 41-50, and from 51-60 did not change the amount of their average gift to religious congregations from 2000 to 2016. However, individuals in the age groups 31-40 and 61+ significantly increased their giving to religion during this same timeframe.
Han noted that younger generations who gave in 2016 gave approximately the same overall amount as earlier generations at the same age: “As such, millennial donors do not appear to be giving less than Generation X donors at the same age, at least in some areas. We need to dig deeper to understand what this preliminary evidence implies about the influence of age cohort and generation on giving behaviors.”
Dr. Clark also explained that the PPS data doesn’t capture all giving: “We know that more individuals gave through new technologies, online giving, crowdfunding, impact investing, etc. There are many ways that younger generations may be donating that we’re not measuring through the PPS. That’s a topic we’d like to explore more in future research.”
For practitioners, this data shows the need to continue to cultivate relationships.
“If a nonprofit can solicit a gift from a donor in the first place, that donor is likely to continue to give even during difficult economic periods,” Dr. Clark said. “Average gift amounts to many subsectors stayed constant (or even increased) despite the Great Recession, so continue to talk to your donors and solicit gifts regardless of the economic environment.”
She also encourages nonprofits to study their specific subsector: “How did my subsector do? How did it compare to others? For neighborhood and community groups, the amount given to them by donor households increased from 2000 to 2016, so study what they’ve done. Have any donor cultivation techniques within the subsector caused this change, has the implementation of new ideas or new strategies increased giving to the subsector, etc.?”
Nonprofits in subsectors where giving amounts stayed steady or the incidence of giving declined can also learn from the data presented and practices of other organizations.
“Does the sector need to appeal to more diverse donors or younger donors coming of age that will comprise a larger percentage of the population moving forward?” Dr. Clark asked. Learning about the entire subsector can also help situate a nonprofit and help it better understand its own experiences through a wider lens.
Overall, Dr. Clark and Han hope that the report and updates to GenerosityForLife.org help current donors understand how important their donation is, motivate them to continue giving, and inspire others to give.
“Not only do we want to inform, but we also want to inspire greater generosity overall. We hope to be a part of the reversal of the decline in the percentage of households that give,” they explained.
Discover where your organization fits in to this data. Does it follow the similar trends as other organizations in your subsector, or is it an anomaly? Why so?