Posted July 1st, 2012

Bequest Income Up 8.8 Percent Last Year – Other Gifts Grew Less Than 1 Percent

The recently released Giving USA report on levels of charitable giving in 2011 indicates that total giving after adjusting for inflation increased by $2.64 billion to $298 billion, a just under 1 percent increase over 2010. While this is the second consecutive year of increase, the 2011 overall giving level remained some 11.2 percent below the pre-recession total of $336 billion reached in 2007.

The report reveals that bequests were the largest contributor to the growth in giving. Bequests increased by 8.8 percent to $24.41 billion in 2011 while gifts from living individuals were up less than 1 percent; foundation giving was down by 1.3 percent and corporate giving fell by 3.1 percent.

During the period of 2007-2011, inflation-adjusted giving overall dropped by 11.2 percent. Gifts from living individuals dropped the most, at 13.9 percent, corporate giving dropped 6.3 percent and giving by foundations dropped 3.9 percent.

It now appears that bequests were the only source of giving that did not shrink during one of the worst periods of decline in giving since the Great Depression. In fact, bequest gifts were actually 0.3 percent higher than the pre-Recession peak year of 2007.

During the time of greatest decline, from 2007 to 2009, when overall giving adjusted for inflation was down 13.1 percent, bequests declined by only 0.5 percent while giving from living individuals was down 16.8 percent and corporations down 6.3 percent. Only foundation giving, down 0.7 percent, was as resilient as bequest giving during the worst of the economic downturn.

As has been the case during other periods of economic uncertainty, gifts received from estates tend to be less volatile and may contribute a higher percentage of gift income than during times of economic prosperity.

For more background on gifts during difficult economic periods, see www.sharpenet.com/resources. There you’ll find links to:

  • Philanthropy in Uncertain Times, a Retrospective 1931-1949 – This paper examines the similarities between giving patterns during the Great Depression and subsequent periods of economic uncertainty. Author Robert Sharpe explains the lessons we can draw from the past and their impact on charitable giving today, including the importance of bequest income, which contributed unprecedented percentages of giving during the Great Depression.
  • Fundraising in Times of Uncertainty – A clear explanation of the reasons for the overall resilience of American Philanthropy and why bequests are and will continue to be the least affected giving option in times of economic fluctuation.
  • Additional Analysis, Summary of Research on Depression Giving.

The publisher of Give & Take is not engaged in rendering legal or tax advisory service. For advice and assistance in specific cases, the services of your own counsel should be obtained. Articles in Give & Take may generally be reprinted for distribution to board members and staff of nonprofit institutions and other non-donor groups. Proper credit must be given. Call for details.

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