Study:Most American donors will maintain giving levels

The Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund has announced the results of a national survey which found that the majority of American donors (55 percent) plan to maintain their level of charitable giving in the fourth quarter, despite the volatile market and economic environment. In addition, nearly one in 10 (8 percent) said they would give more than in past years because the need for help is more acute.

The last three months of the year, known in the philanthropy world as the “giving season,” are a critical fundraising period for many nonprofit organizations.

While the majority of American donors will not change their habits this giving season, one-third (36 percent) indicated that they are giving less than in past years due to financial limitations (30 percent) or the uncertain tax climate (6 percent). Of those giving less, 88 percent say they are still making it a priority to give.

According to the Gift Fund survey, the people who indicate they are giving less this year are split on how they are cutting back. Nearly half (48 percent) of this group say they are giving less to all their causes, while the other half (48 percent) indicate they will prioritize their giving, reducing or eliminating donations for some causes.

The survey also found that two-thirds (66 percent) of donors who are giving less this year are considering making other types of donations instead of cash. Nearly 60 percent say they would give their time and skills, and one in five (21 percent) indicate they will give other assets, such as cars or antiques.

For the first nine months of 2010, contributions to the Gift Fund in the form of appreciated securities represented

51 percent of total contributions. This compares to 39 percent during the same period last year.

The Gift Fund survey found that donors are forward-looking in terms of their giving, with two-thirds (66 percent) indicating that all or most of their charitable giving for this year was planned ahead of time. This increases to 81 percent among households with $100,000 or more in annual income.

Natural disasters such as the flood in Pakistan and the earthquake in Haiti had an impact on giving in 2010, with nearly one-quarter of Americans who said they gave reactively reporting that these events had changed their giving from years past.

Tax planning is often a consideration in charitable giving, yet the survey revealed that it was not an overriding factor for most American donors. According to the survey, receiving a tax deduction was a significant influence for just one-third (31 percent) of all donors and slightly higher (42 percent) for households with more than $100,000 in income. The likelihood of higher taxes next year did not weigh heavily on donors’ giving intentions, with almost nine out of 10 (88 percent) reporting that they wouldn’t change their giving behaviors based on tax increases.

The Gift Fund also reported that its donors recommended more than 212,000 grants totaling over $741 million to nonprofits nationwide during the first nine months of 2010. This was up 22 percent and 13 percent, respectively, from the same period last year. It was the strongest first nine months for outgoing grants in the Gift Fund’s 19-year history. The Gift Fund also said that incoming charitable contributions reached nearly $610 million during the first nine months of the year, representing a 54 percent increase from the same period last year.