The numbers are in on charitable giving in 2018, and I’m pleased to report that the sky is not falling.
In my January 2018 column, “An Alternative Outlook on Charitable Giving Under the New Tax Law,” I shared my contrarian views on the impact that the 2017 tax law changes would have on charitable giving. At the time, there was a great deal of discussion and media attention given to a study conducted by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, which predicted a $4.9 billion to $13.1 billion decrease in charitable giving. My column pointed out that in context of total charitable giving, the worst-case scenario from the study we could see a 3 percent decrease in 2018. A significant figure but not a “the sky is falling scenario” that was being portrayed.
According to Giving USA, total contributions actually went up slightly in 2018, totaling $427.71 billion. Yes, with the doubling of the standard deduction and the cap on state and local tax deductions there were many fewer households who itemized their deductions. Giving USA estimates the number of itemizers decreased from 45 million households in 2017 to 16 to 20 million in 2018. So, while not keeping pace with inflation, there was a 0.7 percent increase in total contributions.
Total giving from individuals declined 1.1 percent to $292 billion dollars, representing 68 percent of total giving. However, giving by corporations increased by 5.4 percent to $20 billion, representing 5 percent of total giving. And giving by foundations increased 7.3 percent to $76 billion, representing 18 percent of total giving.
It was not the doom-and-gloom situation so many predicted, but the decrease in individual giving, which clearly drives total giving, is concerning. However, the data support a theory that there may have been a 2017 year-end bump in individual giving as people learned about the tax law changes and decided to go ahead and make some contributions in 2017 in order to get the maximum tax advantages.
Additionally, stock market volatility at year-end in 2018 may have decreased giving by individuals during this peak giving season. Both probably led to the 1.1 percent decline in giving from individuals. When we factor out these timing differences, I believe individual giving will be trending up on average.
I was optimistic that corporate giving would increase more substantially. Though up 5.4 percent, the $20 billion contributed by corporations represents 0.9% of pre-tax profits. Hopefully, going forward we will see a significant increase in giving as they adjust to the new, considerably lower corporate tax rates.
The bottom line is that it is not all about tax breaks. They are appreciated, but I believe in the generosity of the American people. Tax breaks don’t motivate people to give. People give because they care, and they believe in the mission of the charitable organizations they support.
Phil Hanson is the president and CEO of Truman Heartland Community Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity committed to improving the communities in and around Eastern Jackson County through cooperation with community members and donors. It is based in Independence. For more information, visit www.thcf.org or call 816-836-8189.