With the strong finish of the stock market and passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act at the end of 2017, 2018 is shaping up to be an unusual year, and we can expect major changes in the landscape of charitable giving. These factors will undoubtedly affect the baseline projections produced by The Philanthropy Outlook’s forecasting model.

The stock market exceeded expectations for growth in 2017 and if this growth continues, would boost charitable contributions in the coming years. At the same time, tax reform has the potential to have a significant dampening effect on giving,—especially giving by individuals. The picture for corporate philanthropy is more complex, since little research is available on how the new tax law will impact this giving source. Questions also remain about how corporate and foundation giving will respond to or compensate for changes in giving by individuals. Bequest giving is more complicated still, since estates are slower to react to policy changes.

The multiple ways in which different changes in the tax legislation will affect one other and combine to affect giving, as well as the complex interactions among the economic, policy, and behavioral forces that influence giving, are just beginning to unfold. As a result, forecasting giving in these circumstances is especially challenging, and incorporating these evolving, countervailing factors in real time is beyond the scope of The Philanthropy Outlook’s forecasting model. Therefore, this year’s Philanthropy Outlook has added additional context to explain how the environment for charitable giving is changing.

Potential Impact of Tax Reform on Charitable Giving

The Philanthropy Outlook 2018 & 2019 includes a special “Potential Impact of Tax Reform on Charitable Giving” section. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the standard deduction for individuals and couples will nearly double from what was originally established for 2018, there will be new limits on state and local tax deductions, the estate tax threshold will double, and the corporate tax rate will drop to 21%.1 This section will help stakeholders identify the tax policy changes that will matter most to their donors and charitable organizations, and that will likely affect the baseline projections.

While it will take several years to determine the full impact of tax reform on charitable giving, the research highlighted in this section outlines possible and combined effects of specific policy changes to provide insight on anticipated outcomes of the new legislation for giving by individuals, estates, corporations, and foundations. The special section also presents studies on donor behaviors that may be expected in response to extensive policy changes, and offers historical perspective on behavioral responses to comparable updates to the tax code.

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Scenario Analysis: High, Uneven, and Flat Economic Growth

To understand the full scope of the charitable giving landscape in 2018 and 2019, users of the Philanthropy Outlook must consider the macro-economic climate as well as potential behavioral responses to the new tax law. While no one can know exactly how the confluence of these factors will play out for American philanthropy in the coming years, in this section we present three potential scenarios outlined by economists in the aftermath of the legislation’s passage.

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Baseline Projections

Due to the dynamic giving environment, this edition of The Philanthropy Outlook focuses on directional changes in charitable giving for the years 2018 and 2019 in relation to the year 2017.2 In this section, we explain how various economic factors will affect giving by all four sources (Individuals/Households, Foundations, Estates, and Corporations) and to three subsectors (Education, Health, and Public-Society Benefit) in these years.

Since each subsector contains a wide range of organizations and has its own giving landscape, we provide context for the predicted trends. Although there are many unknowns surrounding charitable giving in the coming years, we know from other policy changes that nonprofit subsectors will likely be impacted differently based on the characteristics of their donors.

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Conditions That May Affect the Outlook for Giving

The Philanthropy Outlook’s “Conditions That May Affect the Outlook for Giving” section presents a more complete picture of the factors that may impact the baseline projections for giving in 2018 and 2019. This year, the “Conditions” section of the report also covers the effects that disaster giving may have on the baseline projections, providing readers with relevant data as we head into uncharted territories in the coming years.

Additionally, this section discusses the stability of the estimates for the economic variables that have the greatest bearing on the baseline projections. Stakeholders may use this section of the report to monitor the variables used in the model and make adjustments throughout the year.

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Emerging Trends

Understanding how the policy and economic landscape impacts donors can lead to more purposeful and meaningful conversations and planning in 2018 and 2019. The donor base includes increasingly more diverse donors, with major gifts coming from women, people of color, younger individuals, and other unique demographics in recent years. With this diversity comes an interest in funding a variety of needs; we see a rise in philanthropic activities around the world, including in rural communities and post-industrial cities in need of revitalization.

The “Emerging Trends” section of this report gives fundraisers important perspective on how best to build connections with donors in these circumstances. In this section, we note important themes in the philanthropic sector and offer recommendations to be used by practitioners in the course of their daily work. This year, we concentrate on impact investing, diversity in philanthropy, and employee-driven corporate philanthropy.

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Methodological Overview

The final section of the report, “Methodological Overview,” provides a high-level summary of our methodology for creating the Philanthropy Outlook forecasting model.

The “Variable Definitions and Sources” subsection explains exactly what the variables used in our forecasting model measure and where these variables are sourced.

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We hope the Philanthropy Outlook 2018 & 2019 offers helpful insight into the complex factors influencing the philanthropic environment and can assist you in making important decisions for your organization.