Charitable Giving

The top 5 giving trends of 2017

The extreme number of natural disasters combined with the rise of social activism and grassroots support has created some dramatic shifts in the world of charitable giving this year. Before we say goodbye to 2017, let’s take a look back at these events and organizations that captured our hearts – and find out what we can still do to offer our support.

1. Disaster relief charities

Around the globe, this past year will be remembered for its natural disasters. Hurricanes devastated the Caribbean islands and the southern U.S., and a major earthquake rocked Mexico. Flooding and landslides killed thousands in Africa, South Asia and South America. Closer to home, raging wildfires destroyed neighborhoods and businesses throughout California.

The charitable response has been extraordinary. Still, hard-hit communities will continue to need support for months and years to come. Even if you’ve already given generously for disaster relief, there’s no rule against giving again and again.

2. Social activism charities

Natural disasters weren’t the only newsmakers. Some trend watchers point to stronger links between social activism and philanthropy. A Charity Navigator analysis earlier this year found significant shifts in giving patterns. After the Women’s March in January, for example, associated charitable organizations saw a bump in giving.

Charity Navigator (an independent charity watchdog organization) also maintains a list of hot topics, complete with suggestions of highly rated, related charities. Among the issues and challenges listed for the first week of December were immigration and refugees, civil rights, United Nations sustainable development goals, women and girls, and veterans and active-duty service members.

3. Online charitable giving

You may be surprised at how much your favorite charities count on end-of-year charitable donations, especially those made online.

According to the Network for Good’s Digital Giving Index, in 2015 (the most recent year for which data is available) 29 percent of online giving occurred in December. The last three days of the year are busiest, with 11 percent of online charitable gifts made then. And, the largest average gifts were made December 23, when donors gave an average of $223, compared with $110 the rest of the year.

4. Religion and education

Religious and educational organizations continue to be the most popular institutions Americans provide charitable support for based on dollars. According to Giving USA 2017: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2016, U.S. donors gave a record $390 billion to charity last year. Most of that, or nearly $282 billion, came from individuals. Nearly one-third – $122.94 billion – went to religious organizations. Education came in second, with $59.77 billion or 15 percent.

5. Grassroots and climate concern charities

While religious organizations still top the list, growth trends told a slightly different story. The much smaller environment and animals charitable category was the fastest growing subsector in 2016. Giving USA attributes some of this growth to two social trends: grassroots support for the Standing Rock and Dakota Access pipelines, and increased concern about climate change and other environmental causes after the 2016 presidential election. Education also experienced strong growth, with total 2016 contributions reaching the highest inflation-adjusted value ever.                      

Need more time to decide where your giving should go?

Consider a donor-advised fund (DAF), like the Giving Fund with TIAA Charitable. DAFs are increasingly the most popular giving vehicle in the U.S.

This year, there are more reasons than ever to open a DAF. At the top of that list is timing. Contributing to a DAF in 2017 allows you to dedicate money to charity now while still providing the flexibility to figure out the details. Here’s why that matters:

  • Your DAF contribution may still qualify for a tax deduction in 2017. That may not be the case next year pending the anticipated tax code changes.
  • Take the time you need for a more strategic approach to giving. You can research additional charities and causes and take another look at some old favorites. And, you can support as many charities as you want, when you want.
  • While you’re considering the best use of your charitable dollars, the funds are invested. That gives them the potential to grow tax-free, increasing your charitable dollars and impact.

Whatever you decide, act soon

Charities must receive your gifts by year-end or they will not be eligible for a deduction on your 2017 taxes. Keep in mind, timing varies depending on the type of gift you make and the charities you are giving to. You may want to contact individual charities if you are concerned about deadlines. For gifts to TIAA Charitable, be sure to check the deadlines as soon as possible.


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