After a record-breaking 2017, charitable giving by individual Americans fell last year in response to a volatile stock market and the new tax law.
Charities raked in $427.71 billion overall in 2018, an increase in total dollars from the previous year. But when adjusted for inflation, the figure represented a 1.7% decline in overall giving, according to Giving USA, an annual report on philanthropy released Tuesday.
The dollar amount of donations from individual Americans dropped 1.1%, while donations from corporations and foundations — the charitable entities often established by wealthy families — increased by 5.4% and 7.3% respectively.
“The economy is a well-established factor in the growth of giving year-over-year and that was certainly the case in 2018,” said Una Osili, Ph.D., associate dean for research and international programs at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “As a countervailing factor, the stock market declined in late 2018, which may have had a dampening effect on giving.”
The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy researches and writes the Giving USA report.
Osili said the robust economy saw a 5% gain in personal disposable income and a 5.2% increase in GDP. Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average
and S&P 500 Index
fell by double-digit percentages in late 2018 and then rebounded.
Another factor that’s affecting charitable giving: President Trump’s tax reform, Osili said. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act doubled the standard deduction for taxpayers. Nonprofits feared this would eliminate the incentive for people to itemize deductions and make them less likely to make charitable donations, which are typically itemized.
More than 45 million households itemized deductions in 2016, according to Giving USA. That number may have dropped to approximately 16 to 20 million households in 2018, the report said. Some nonprofit leaders feared fewer itemizers could lead to a $13 to $20 billion drop in donations. While those dire predictions haven’t materialized yet, experts say it’s still too early to tell exactly how the new tax law has affected charitable giving.
While giving to religious groups and education declined, there were significant increases, on a percentage basis, in donations to environmental causes and international affairs. That could be a reflection of media attention to issues like climate change and immigration.
Indeed, media coverage of children detained at the U.S.-Mexico border in the summer of 2018 helped fuel a record-breaking fundraiser on Facebook