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2014 Was A Record-Setting, $358 Billion Year For Charitable Giving

Kathryn Harper

Giving USA has been crunching charitable numbers for 60 years and 2014’s total of just over $358 billion was an all-time high. Four out of every five of those dollars came from individuals. Individuals who aren't necessarily billionaires.

“They’re the ones that are giving $100, or $50 or $500 a year," says Rick Dunham, Secretary/Treasurer of the Giving USA Foundation which does this study every year.

Major donors do help the grand total along. For example, last year Warren Buffett gave the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation a gift of $2.1 billion.

Younger tech entrepreneurs are getting into the giving game too.  Take the co-founders of GoPro who gave half a billion to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation last year. Still, Dunham says the classic charitable giver looks at little different.

“At the end of the day, the core donor is still the person who is still 50 to 55 years old, who’s at their highest earning years, their costs have gone down, they have more discretionary income," he says.

The picture of where donated dollars are going is an interesting one. Giving to health, education and human services is up. In fact, every sector saw an increase, except international giving.

“International tends to be quite volatile depending on if there’s any major international catastrophe so like the tsunami that garnered a lot of support that year so you see a huge spike in international giving," says Dunham.

The biggest piece of the giving pie goes to religion, about a third overall. That’s an increase over last year, however the percentage going to religion has been on the decline for the last 30 years.

That might be because fewer people are showing up for services.

“There is a lower attendance, and there’s a direct correlation between giving and attendance at religious services," says Dunham.

The easiest way to track philanthropy is to watch the stock market. When it soars, people give. When it tanks, people tighten up.

“One in 10 jobs in America is in the non-profit sector, it’s that large. It represents over 2 percent of the GDP. It’s bigger than the airline industry, for comparison," Dunham says.

And thanks to the 7 percent bump in charitable giving last year, it’s only getting bigger.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.