Americans gave $390 billion to charity last year

Key Points
  • American charitable giving in 2016 jumped nearly 3 percent from 2015 to $390 billion.
  • Giving from individuals alone amounted to $282 billion, with the rest coming from estates, foundations and corporations.
  • The 50 largest gifts totaled $5.6 billion last year.
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Charitable giving in the U.S. topped $390 billion in 2016, up nearly 3 percent from 2015, despite uncertainty around the election, according to a new report.

The Giving USA Annual Report on Philanthropy, published by the Giving USA Foundation, said individuals, estates, foundations and corporations gave $390.05 billion to charities in 2016, up from $379.89 billion in 2015.

Giving by individuals was especially strong, at $282 billion, up 3.9 percent from the prior year. Charity experts say the growth was surprising given the public vitriol and volatility surrounding the presidential election and uncertainty about the economy and tax policy.

"Americans remained generous in 2016, despite it being a year punctuated by economic and political uncertainty," said Aggie Sweeney, the chair of Giving USA Foundation. "We saw growth in every major sector, indicating the resilience of philanthropy and diverse motivations of donors."

Giving by foundations rose 3.5 percent to $59.3 billion. Giving by bequests fell 9 percent to $30.4 billion, while giving by corporations increased 3.5 percent to $18.6 billion.

While the wealthy account for a large share of giving — the top 50 gifts totaled $5.6 billion last year — Giving USA said there were large numbers of smaller donations from less-wealthy donors.

"In 2016, we saw something of a democratization of philanthropy," said Patrick M. Rooney, associate dean for academic affairs and research at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, which writes the report. "The strong growth in individual giving may be less attributable to the largest of the large gifts, which were not as robust as we have seen in some prior years, suggesting that more of that growth in 2016 may have come from giving by donors among the general population compared to recent years."

Giving to all major categories increased. Religion remains the largest recipient of charitable dollars, increasing 3 percent last year to $123 billion. Education ranked second, taking in $59.8 billion, up 3.6 percent; human services increased 4 percent to $46.8 billion, and giving to health rose 5.7 percent to $33.1 billion. Giving to arts and cultural organizations increased 6.4 percent to $18.2 billion, while giving to international affairs increased 4.6 percent to $22 billion. Giving to environmental and animal organizations increased 7 percent to $11 billion.