Moving the Needle: What Might Be Possible for Philanthropy in America?

Leaders in the nonprofit and fundraising sector are gathering soon, through an effort spearheaded by The Giving Institute, to begin developing a plan to help increase charitable giving in America.

American individuals, estates, foundations and corporations contributed an estimated $390.05 billion to U.S. charities in 2016, according to Giving USA 2017: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2016. Total giving rose 2.7 percent in current dollars (1.4 percent adjusted for inflation) over total giving in 2015, and giving to all nine major categories of recipient organizations grew, making 2016 just the sixth time in the past 40 years that this has occurred.

This growth in giving is good.  Yet total giving as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) continues to hover around 2.0 percent as it has for the last six years. So, The Giving Institute is coordinating discussions about a national plan to “move the needle.”

JB+A President + CEO Jeffrey Byrne, who served as Board Chair of The Giving Institute from 2015-2017, is among several nonprofit thought leaders who are part of an initial “working committee” to start dialogue about an examination of giving practices and how to increase giving while incorporating input from several people from several sectors (nonprofit, government, corporate, etc.)

Approximately two dozen people will be meeting in Dallas on February 7 to continue developing components of the plan:  focus of the work, organization as a legal entity, potential leadership and staffing, funding, research, information dissemination, federal recognition, communications and building support.

This national examination of giving practices is similar to “The Commission on Private Philanthropy and Public Needs” in 1973-1975, most commonly known as “The Filer Commission.” This historical effort was spearheaded by John Filer, chairman of Aetna Insurance, and initiated by John D. Rockefeller, III, after the Tax Reform Act of 1969 was passed.  The Commission’s report, “Giving in America,”  contained recommendations that fell into three categories: 1) proposals involving taxes and giving, 2) interaction among donors, recipients and the public – those who affect the philanthropic process and 3) a proposal for a permanent commission on the nonprofit sector. The commission scrutinized government inducements to giving and considered alternatives such as tax credits and matching grant systems. Members felt the charitable deduction should be “retained and added on to rather than replaced by another form of governmental encouragement to giving.”

There were six main objectives for the commission’s final report: 1) increase the number of people who contribute significantly to and participate in nonprofit activities, 2) increase the amount of giving, 3) increase inducements to giving by those in low- and middle-income brackets, 4) preserve private choice in giving, 5) minimize income loss of nonprofit organizations that depend on the current pattern of giving and 6) be as efficient as possible (meaning, the new levels of  contributions stimulated should at least approximate the amount of government revenue foregone in order to provide this stimulus.) thought leader and participant in this critical/revolutionary time for philanthropy.

JB+A is excited to be part of this exciting and pivotal time for philanthropy – and discovering what might be possible for philanthropy in America in the years ahead.

*Giving USA: The Annual Report on Philanthropy in America, has produced comprehensive charitable giving data that are relied on by donors, fundraisers and nonprofit leaders. The research in this annual report estimates all giving to all charitable organizations across the United States.  Giving USA is a public outreach initiative of Giving USA FoundationTM and is researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Giving USA FoundationTM, established in 1985 by The Giving Institute, endeavors to advance philanthropy through research and education. Explore Giving USA products and resources, including free highlights of each annual report at its online store at www.givingusa.org for more information.

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