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Charitable Giving during the Great Recession

December 13, 2011

charity-givingIn an article for Pathways magazine, RSF authors Rob Reich and Christopher Wimer assess how the Great Recession affected charitable giving in America. The article is adapted from their chapter in The Great Recession, published earlier this year by RSF. At the onset of the downturn, many expressed fear that the bad economy would pinch the level of charitable donations. After surveying other studies (and collecting data from their own samples), the authors conclude there is little evidence Americans have scaled back their generosity. "We are still giving at extremely high levels and at nearly the same proportion of total dollars as before," they write.

Here is a sample of the findings:

• The 2008 economic downturn gave rise to one of the largest year-over-year declines in charitable giving since the late 1960s. Total giving in 2008 fell by 7 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars, from $326.57 billion to $303.76 billion. This absolute sum, however, does not indicate if Americans are giving less proportionally of their income as they did before.

• Giving as a percentage of GDP has fallen only slightly in the last year, declining from 2.1 percent in 2008 to 2.0 percent in 2009 and 2010. The all-time high in giving (as a percentage of GDP) was 2.3 percent in 2005.

• In 2009, giving to religion did not budge. A separate study found that contributions declined by just 0.1 percent from 2007 to 2009, though declines were larger for groups with smaller budgets.

• Total funding to food backs in a sample of the 50 largest cities by population size rose 2.2 percent from 2007 to 2008. Funding then surged from 2008 to 2009, increasing 31.9 percent.

Read the full article: "Has the Great Recession made Americans Stingier?"