Philanthropy continues to expand in its visibility, both as a means of meeting the broad needs of our global society and to test innovative solutions for complex problems. Today’s philanthropy involves high-profile donors and social causes featured as trending topics on social media feeds. Corporations are partnering with charities to provide consumers with daily opportunities to make social impact. Investors are leveraging their resources to make large-scale change in creating a better tomorrow for entire populations. Individuals from all walks of life are taking advantage of multiple means of engagement with charities to ‘give back’ and ‘pay it forward.’

Translating the social value of philanthropic engagement into hard data, organizational revenue within the charitable sector is now approaching $2 trillion annually or 5.4% of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP).1 Moreover, growth in staffing and wages within the sector outpaced those in the public and corporate sectors over a recent 10-year period.2 However, despite this growth, more than half of nonprofits recently reported that they have been unable to meet the demand placed on them.3

Driven by competition for financial resources and an increased need for understanding the sector, interest in real-time philanthropic data continues to grow for nonprofit leaders, fundraisers, and practitioners. Such data is often elusive, an outcome of the complexity of constructing models that produce accurate predictions, as well as the fast-paced evolvement of our global economic landscape.

In this third annual edition of The Philanthropy Outlook, we project national philanthropic giving for 2017 and 2018 by all donor types and giving to three recipient subsectors: education, health, and public-society benefit. Each of these noted subsectors has experienced unique changes and challenges in recent years. Recent research reveals that:4

  • The education subsector has seen relatively large year-over-year gains in philanthropic giving in the last several years. Giving to institutions of higher education and private schools has been particularly strong, especially via online methods. Billion-dollar university campaigns have been numerous and successful, for both public and private institutions.
  • Fundraising in the health subsector has produced mixed results in recent years. Support of organizations that research and treat specific diseases has realized moderate increases, but hospital fundraising appears to have grown more slowly. Online giving to health organizations has also realized slower growth as compared to other types of organizations, and peer-to-peer fundraising initiatives have seen declines.
  • The public-society benefit subsector has continued to realize varied fundraising results by organizational type. Giving to national donor-advised funds has risen by large margins in recent years, but giving to support federated funds has generally been less positive. Nevertheless, many organizations focused on civic and human rights have seen important gains.

The addition of the outlooks for health and public-society benefit to this edition of The Philanthropy Outlook provides practitioners across the nonprofit sector with additional information they need to make informed decisions about fundraising strategy, finances, and staffing.

Overall, the U.S. should expect continued philanthropic
growth for the years 2017 and 2018:

  • The total giving rate is expected to rise above the 5-year annualized average for total giving, but will be below the 10-year and 25-year annualized averages.5
  • All sources of giving are projected to increase their contributions in 2017 and 2018. Giving by foundations will see the largest increases in both years, followed by giving by bequest. Increases in contributions from individuals/households will be higher than the increases for gifts made by corporations.
  • Among the recipient subsectors, giving to health will increase the most in both years. In 2017 and 2018, the health subsector will be the only one among those analyzed that will see giving rise above 10-year, 25-year, and 40-year historical trends. Giving to public-society benefit will exceed two of these noted historical trends, while giving to education will exceed one of these historical trends.

We are pleased to report a positive philanthropy outlook for the years 2017 and 2018, and we hope that you can use this information to make important decisions that benefit your organization.