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Report: Fewer Americans Are Donating to Charity

A new report released by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and Vanguard Charitable shows that the number of Americans who donate to charity has dramatically decreased in recent years.

The report, titled “Changes to the Giving Landscape,” reveals that 53% of Americans gave to charity in 2016, down from 66% in 2000. Put another way, approximately 20 million fewer households are donating to charity than they did 20 years ago.

“This shift is due to lower-income and lower-wealth Americans experiencing the slowest economic recovery since the Great Recession, during years when the cost of other items such as food, education, and healthcare have increased,” said Vanguard Charitable President Jane Greenfield. “This has led to a decrease in the share of income available to give to charity.”

The authors of the report noted that millennials in particular are less likely to give to charity than older generations, which is likely due to having “the misfortune of entering the workforce during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.”

Data shows that baby boomers and those belonging to Generation X, for example, gave more to charity over time as their income increased. However, the same did not hold true for millennials.

“There’s a general trajectory that as you get older your income grows and your giving grows,” said Una Osili, co-author of the report and associate dean for research and international programs at the Lilly School. “With millennials we haven’t seen that same pattern.”

But that’s not the only reason Americans are giving less. The other big factor is religion.

Surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center show 26% of Americans now identify as atheists, agnostics, or “nothing in particular,” compared to 17% in 2009. Why does that matter? Because researchers at Baylor University found that religious people are more likely to give to charity.

“Religious organizations have traditionally gotten the lion’s share of Americans’ charitable dollars,” MarketWatch notes.

Click here to read the full report.

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Americans Aren’t Saving Much, But They Still Donate

According to recent surveys by Google Consumer Surveys and bankrate.com, 62% of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings, and 21% have no savings account to speak of. The data has raised some concerns among fundraisers as to the ability of people to donate to charitable causes, especially retired people. 4 out of 5 people between the ages of 30 and 54 don’t think they’ll have enough money to retire.

There are, of course, deeper problems that these numbers elude too, but it makes sense for fundraisers to be concerned about their ability to raise money for charities. Although charitable donations in 2014 totaled $360 billion, which is the highest in decades and was the fifth year in a row that donations increased, that still only amounts to about 2% of the nation’s GDP, a ratio which has stayed relatively stable for the last half a century or so. That increase is due more to a recovering economy than to a sudden spike in empathy.

For those concerned about their ability to raise funds, the relative lack of personal wealth out there might seem disheartening, but people are still donating, and willing to continue doing so. The trick to getting those donations looks to be improving communications to potential donors. People want to know what their money will go to, especially those who don’t have a lot of it, and they want to feel like their donation is going to something useful. Transparency is key here, as groups less willing, or less able, to explain how they use funds are less likely to receive them, at least form smaller donors. But not everyone can tap into lifelong donors for whom writing big checks isn’t a problem. Learning to appeal to smaller donors by being honest and working hard is the best way to overcome a fear that they can’t donate much.