Thursday, June 17, 2021


Our home page reports on charitable giving in 2020: $471.4 billion, a remarkable achievement made possible largely by high growth in the stock market, stimulating both gifts  from individuals and families; and from foundations, whose portfolios also jumped in value as a result of investment gains.

In a piece I published  in this blog, and then (much edited) in Nonprofit Times this past May, I said that Giving USA data, though arguably the best estimate we have, is probably a vast undercount: remittance giving is not counted at all, and I regard that phenomenon at least as much philanthropic as the church collection plate, because it is. motivated by philanthropic impulse, though seldom mentioned as such. Bequest giving is also undercounted because most of it is below the tax reporting threshold requirement; Giving USA relies on IRS data. Next, in comparative terms, gifts from individuals are infrequently itemized; and lastly, an undeterminable amount of corporate giving is written off as a business expense. For a corporation, a charitable deduction is the same as any other business expense. Charitable giving bestows no additional, nor lesser, advantage. 

The takeaway, in any case, is that many of us (including me) expected disaster when Covid shut down the economy in March, 2020. No one projected the hit stock market growth, fueled largely by the FANGs: Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google; by robust consumer spending despite high unemployment (mainly in lower paying service jobs); and by the Trump administration's tax cuts for the wealthy and for business. There is no question that lots of money sloshing around, even in the face of over 600,000 Covid deaths in the US, propelled astonishing growth, an all time record since the organization first reported on charitable giving in (I think) 1955.