News and analysis
October 17, 2010

Donations Dropped 11% at Nation's Biggest Charities Last Year

M. T. Harmon/Corporation for National and Community Service

Habitat for Humanity International (No. 11) builds a house in New Orleans

Note: This article corrects figures for Catholic Charities USA that appeared in an earlier version. As a result, the order of the top 10 charities has changed.

Donations to the nation’s biggest charities dropped 11 percent last year, a decline that was the worst in the two decades since The Chronicle started its Philanthropy 400 ranking of the organizations that raise the most from private sources.

Nonprofit organizations say they don’t expect to have done much better by the time 2010 ends. More than one in four of the groups provided projections for 2010, and the median change they predicted was an increase of just 1.4 percent.

The 400 institutions in the survey raised $68.6-billion in 2009. The drop they suffered in contributions was nearly four times as great as the next biggest annual decrease: 2.8 percent in 2001, when charities also struggled to raise money from recession-battered donors.

The median amount raised by charities on the Philanthropy 400 also declined last year to $98.8-million, down from $105-million in 2008, meaning half raised more and half raised less. The Philanthropy 400 is based on the most-recent year of data available for charities; most organizations reported data for the 2009 fiscal year but some groups reported data for other periods of time.

The Top 10

Among the 10 charities that raised the most last year, six reported declines. Giving to United Way Worldwide (No. 1) decreased by 4.5 percent and to the Salvation Army (No. 2) by 8.4 percent, the smallest declines among the top-ranking groups.

Food for the Poor (No. 5) saw contributions fall by more than 27 percent, while donations to the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund (No. 6) plunged by 40.3 percent, largely because it relies heavily on stock gifts, which were not very popular last year. Also reporting declines were the American Cancer Society (No. 7), where giving fell by 11 percent, and the Y (No. 10), which reported a 17.2-percent drop in donations.

Only four charities in the top 10 reported increased contributions last year. They were Catholic Charities USA (No. 9) with a 5.2-percent jump in donations; the AmeriCares Foundation (No. 3), which achieved an 18.1-percent rise in giving, mostly in food, medicine, and other donated goods; Feed the Children (No. 4), another charity that relies on donated products, where contributions rose by 1.2 percent; and World Vision (No. 8), which reported a 4.5-percent increase in giving mostly by donors who make monthly gifts to “sponsor” needy children overseas.

$1-Billion Gainers

While AmeriCares fared well last year, its fund-raising growth for the past two decades helped it achieve the top ranking among organizations that grew the fastest in the 20 years since The Chronicle started ranking the top fund-raising charities. It increased giving by $1.1-billion. Two other charities also grew by more than $1-billion: Feed the Children and Habitat for Humanity, which now ranks No. 11.

The Chronicle’s list shows how hard it is for new organizations to raise enough to make the Philanthropy 400 list. Of the charities on the 2010 list, 226 of the same groups appeared in 1991 and 178 organizations appeared on the list for all 20 years.

Two nonprofit leaders who played a key role in helping their organizations get on the list will discuss fund-raising trends and how their organizations overcome fund-raising challenges in a free online discussion on Tuesday, October 19, at noon U.S. Eastern time.

The Philanthropy 400 shows the organizations that raise the most from individuals, foundations, and businesses. No government funds are counted. As a result, some organizations that are large but get most of their money from government agencies are not included. Full coverage of this year’s Philanthropy 400 rankings, plus a look at the 20-year history of the list, are available at http://philanthropy.com/400.

The Philanthropy 400 was compiled by Noelle Barton, Marisa Lopez-Rivera, and Alex Richards.