Frequently Asked Questions on Giving USA

Below are summary responses to common questions about Giving USA estimates and data.

What is excluded from Giving USA estimates?

Giving USA researchers develop estimates for philanthropic giving to charitable organizations located in the United States. Giving USA does not estimate all forms of revenue to nonprofit organizations. Among the types of revenue not included in Giving USA are allocations to nonprofits from other charitable organizations, such as United Ways or communal funds; fees for services; payments that are not tax deductible as gifts; gross proceeds from special events; government  grants; membership dues; and contributions from crowdfunding campaigns beyond what is reported on  IRS Forms 990 and 990-EZ of 501(c)(3) organizations on the recipient side.

Why can’t all giving be allocated to a recipient?

Each year, a portion of total charitable receipts reported by Giving USA is labeled as “unallocated,” meaning that Giving USA cannot attribute all giving to a particular subsector. In 2017, unallocated giving amounted to -$2.24 billion, comprising -0.5 percent of total giving.

Below are reasons why unallocated giving occurs:

  • All Giving USA figures are estimates. Giving USA estimates giving for years when final tax, economic, or demographic data are not yet available.
  • Estimates done in different ways should not match. It is not expected that the estimate for giving by source will exactly match the estimate for giving to recipients. Government agencies, such as those that release GDP figures, also acknowledge differences between estimates developed using one method and those developed using a different method.
  • Giving USA does not track charitable gifts received by government agencies, such as school districts (with one exception noted in the following bullet point); parks and recreation departments; civic improvement programs; state institutions of higher education; and public libraries. There is no single national list of public organizations that receive gifts. They cannot be identified and surveyed.
  • Donations to school districts, especially by foundations, have grown significantly in recent years. Giving USA sometimes includes large publicly reported gifts ($1 million or more) to public schools to supplement the estimate for giving to education and to balance gifts made on the source’s side of the estimates. Other donations to public schools, such as school fundraisers, are not included.
  • Foundation grants paid to organizations in other countries that are not registered as charities in the United States appear on the sources side of the estimates but are not tracked by type of recipient. In 2010, grantmaking to organizations located overseas comprised 36 percent of all international grantmaking (in terms of dollars), according to the Foundation Center.
  • A gift made during the calendar year may not appear in a fiscal year by a charity filing IRS Form 990 or Form 990-EZ. Giving USA uses the data charities report as the basis for the estimates. Therefore, if a charity reports on a fiscal year rather than a calendar year, total annual charitable contributions for these organizations will not correspond with donors’ receipts, which are reported to the IRS on a calendar-year basis.
  • Some donors make arrangements for significant deferred charitable gifts without telling the nonprofit. For instance, a donor can create a trust through a financial institution and take the allowed deduction, subject to IRS rules for valuing such gifts. Unless the donor informs the nonprofit organization that will ultimately receive some of the trust’s proceeds, the nonprofit is unaware of the gift and does not report it as revenue.
  • A donor might claim a different amount for a deduction than the recipient charity records as a receipt. This discrepancy can occur for an in-kind gift in which the donor claims fair market value and the charity reports as charitable revenue the amount it received from the sale of the item (or some other value based on a different scale than the one the donor used).

Why does Giving USA make revisions?

Giving USA’s results are a series of estimates that primarily rely on econometric methodologies and are not a tabulation of actual charitable receipts from the prior year. The estimates are revised as additional information, such as final charitable receipts, becomes available. Government agencies, such as the IRS, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and many others, routinely issue preliminary estimates that are revised as more data are obtained and analyzed. Giving USA uses this updated information in the models for estimating both sources and uses of giving each year.