Philanthropic giving is slowly increasing despite tough economic conditions in the United States, according to a new report published by Giving USA.  However, the U.S. is still below its pre-recession levels of generosity, signaling that most Americans believe that challenging economic times still lay ahead.

In 2012, total charitable donations in the U.S. amounted to $316.23 billion, up by 3.5 percent over 2011.  Adjusted for inflation, the amount represents just a 1.5 percent increase in donations from individuals, corporations and foundations.  In 2007, charitable giving was an inflation-adjusted $344 billion.

“One of the things that are probably the most notable is that in spite of a stubbornly resistant unemployment rate and slow growth in the economy, giving from individuals, foundations and corporations has grown,” said Patrick Rooney, executive director of the Center for Philanthropy. “The good news is that it’s not going down, and the bad news is that it’s not going up as rapidly as one might prefer.”

Volunteers at a food bank in Virginia in 2009. / Credit: Commons/Wikimedia
Volunteers at a food bank in Virginia in 2009. / Credit: Commons/Wikimedia

A weak economy produced a sharp decline of 17.6 percent in 2008.  Philanthropic giving only recovered slowly through 2011.  However, Americans have consistently given 2 percent of the nation’s GDP through bear and bull economies.

Where the money is directed changed the past few years.  When the U.S. economy experienced a downturn, more donations were funneled towards homelessness and hunger programs, according to Giving USA’s researchers.  Funding towards the arts and culture dropped by nearly 18 percent.  In 2012, funding increased for the arts and culture.

There has been a 10 percent increase in corporate donations.  Some contend that such actions are designed to offset tax increases levied by the Obama administration.

“[U.S.] charitable giving rose modestly in 2012, fueled by a jump in corporate gifts and concerns about possible tax changes which could limit future deductions,” according to the study.  “Giving by corporations jumped 12.2 percent in 2012 to $18.15 billion, highlighting strong corporate profits.”

Gary Guion, a real estate investor in Texas, feels that many Americans continue to support worthy causes.

Mr. Guion and his wife have focused their philanthropic giving towards local causes in and around Dallas.  “We have donated construction services to a local Mission.  This building now allows up to 750 short term missionaries many times per year to prepare to work in underprivileged communities by sharing the Gospel with children,” says Guion.

After graduating with a business degree from the University of Texas at Austin, Guion worked for the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.  He then became involved in construction and real estate investments, and now owns a majority interest in both firms.

“In 2012, we donated to a church that was starting up and needed assistance,” says the 36-year-old Guion.  “We also love to give back to the University of Texas.  The McCombs School of Business provided so much for me so it’s a joy to give back.”

Despite Mr. Guion’s support of Dallas-area churches, religious donations have been decreasing nationally, according to Giving USA.

“People don’t see religious organizations as the center of their communities anymore,” says Eileen Heisman, president and CEO of the National Philanthropic Trust.  “There was a time when your church — where you belong with God — defined you, and I don’t think religion is the centerpiece of the American small town or center of identity like it used to be.  So when the amount of religious activity goes down, funding to these groups goes down.”

Charitable donations to education increased 7 percent to $41 billion.  Religious donations dropped slightly by 0.2 percent to $101.54 billion.

Gary Guion, Texas-based real estate investor and philanthropist.
Gary Guion, Texas-based real estate investor and philanthropist.