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Top 5 Ways Nonprofits Can Use Giving USA 2021

By Jeffrey D. Byrne

Co-Founder + CEO 

Giving USA is the most trusted annual report on the sources and uses of philanthropy in the United States, but it’s also a valuable resource in helping us improve philanthropy.  Nonprofit organizations can use Giving USA 2021 data to help identify trends as well as opportunities to strengthen their fundraising in the coming years. Case in point, Giving USA 2021 highlighted several important trends in philanthropy like:

  • Online giving grew 13% in 2020, its highest share of total giving on record, proving to be an important strategy for many nonprofits in 2020 and beyond.
  • Giving by foundations reached a record 19% of total giving in 2020
  • Giving by individuals came to 69% of total giving due in part to mega-gifts from individual donors like Mackenzie Scott ($5.734 billion donated in 2020) who gave direct, unrestricted funds to a number of nonprofits in 2020 – a giving trend that may continue

Here are my Top Five Ways Nonprofits Can Use Giving USA to improve their fundraising:

  1. Understand the correlations between giving and economic factors
    The stock market, personal wealth, personal income, GDP, corporate pre-tax profits and unemployment rates impact giving by all four sources (individuals, foundations, bequests and corporations). 2020 was one of the highest years for giving on record despite a rocky economic environment. By year end, the stock market had recovered and the S&P 500 grew 16.3% in current dollars. So, what will 2021 bring and how will that dictate fundraising strategies going forward?

The Takeaway: Be aware of changes in these indicators, anticipate how changes will impact donors and adjust fundraising strategies accordingly.

  1. Set realistic and achievable goals for 2021/2022
    Economic and political scenarios, complex societal issues, diverse giving platforms, wealth and capacity are just some of the drivers behind philanthropy. We got a taste of all of these scenarios in 2020 and can see that they impacted who received funds and from whom. We can and should expect that all these drivers will play a role in philanthropic outcomes for 2021.

The Takeaway: Understand the context of these drivers, help manage expectations about giving and set realistic and achievable goals for 2021/2022.

  1. Educate Board members, volunteers, donors and staff about the broad context of philanthropic giving. Your constituents should understand how the data informs your decision making when it comes to fundraising.

The Takeaway: Help stakeholders better understand your organization’s funding patterns and potential.

  1. Be nimble in your fundraising and stewardship
    Nonprofit fundraising must evolve as philanthropy evolves.  We are seeing an increase in the popularity of non-traditional giving vehicles (such as donor-advised funds, grassroots fundraising, non-cash assets) and donors want more evidence of the impact of their gifts.

The Takeaway: Listen to your donors and prospective donors – and tailor your strategies to match their needs and expectations

  1. Recognize the power of the individual
    An estimated 95% of total giving in 2020 came from individuals, bequests and family foundations.

The Takeaway: There are human beings involved in every gift. Never stop focusing on developing and maintaining meaningful relationships.

About Giving USA
For 65 years, Giving USA: The Annual Report on Philanthropy in America, has provided comprehensive charitable giving data that are relied on by donors, fundraisers and nonprofit leaders. The research in this annual report estimates all giving to charitable organizations across the United States. Giving USA is a public outreach initiative of Giving USA Foundation and is researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Giving USA Foundation, established in 1985 by The Giving Institute, endeavors to advance philanthropy through research and education. Explore Giving USA products and resources at

About The Giving Institute
The Giving Institute, the parent organization of Giving USA Foundation, consists of member organizations that have embraced and embodied the core values of ethics, excellence and leadership in advancing philanthropy. Serving clients of every size and purpose, from local institutions to international organizations, The Giving Institute member organizations embrace the highest ethical standards and maintain a strict code of fair practices. For information on selecting fundraising counsel, visit

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