Review: 'Giving USA 2017'

Prospect development professionals have the privileged role of being the driving force behind the acquisition and stewardship of almost every facet of an organization’s donor base. With this central role, it is not uncommon for prospect development professionals to be asked to keep tabs on philanthropy in general as well to provide reporting and benchmarks that will allow comparisons between their organization, other similar organizations and non-profits as a whole. To that end, there is one comprehensive report that will greatly aid the prospect development professional in scouring for benchmark numbers and national and sector-wide giving trends: the Giving USA 2017 report from Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

Providing a high-level overview of America’s philanthropic landscape, the Giving USA 2017 report, now in its 62nd edition, provides the reader with philanthropic trends that go back as far as 1976. The report looks at four main sources of giving — individuals, bequests, foundations, corporations — and nine main recipients of giving:

  • Religion
  • Education
  • Human Services
  • Gifts to foundations
  • Health
  • Public-society benefit
  • Arts, culture and humanities
  • International affairs
  • Environmental/animals
  • Gifts to individuals

Giving trends that show a sharp contrast between 2015 and 2016’s report are pulled out on the highlights of the report (such as the fact that bequest giving is down 9 percent between 2015 and 2016). The highlights exist on three pages, so for the more in depth data and discussion you must use the table of contents on the highlights (or in the report itself) to find the data that will be most relevant to you, as reading the entire report at over 400 pages will take several hours.

Reports that will be of particular interest to point out to frontline fundraisers and to advancement leadership will be the special section on donor advised funds (p. 69) and the discussion of donor and gift retention in the Giving by Individuals section starting on page 91. For prospect development professionals who are involved in setting strategy, there is an invaluable discussion and chart showing how the ups and downs of the S&P 500 correlates to giving trends (p. 49).

For most readers, finding your way to the section that matches your type of organization will be the most valuable use of time. Here is where you can find how the leaders in your particular sector have performed and benchmark your own organization to them. As my organization is in International Affairs, I was able to go to that chapter in the report and look at my organization’s peers to compare performance from 2015 to 2016 alongside my own organization’s performance.

One key area that could be improved in future reports is for the data to be presented in a way that takes into account regions within the United States. Such knowledge as “The Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk (CT) metropolitan area led for giving to education organizations,” which is cited from Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund’s 2016 “Charitable Sector Support by City” report, would be advantageous for the Giving USA team to pursue in writing future reports. This type of information would allow organizations to do leverage information on a regional or metropolitan level instead of a national one. The omission makes me curious to know the answer to questions like: “Are bequests down 9 percent because of steep drop-offs in the Northeast but are neutral or increasing in other regions?” or “How does donor and gift retention vary from region to region?” This type of data would seemingly be easy to segment from their current data sets and be a great value add for the reader.

The Giving USA 2017 report is an excellent resource for your next benchmarking or strategy project.


Want more specifics on Giving USA 2017? Head over to Statistical Significance for an infographic that highlights some key findings from the report.

To purchase the report, visit A variety of options are available ranging from $0 - $399.95. Apra members can use the code APRASAVE for 15 percent off.

Thomas Turner is the director of research and prospect management at International Justice Mission where he manages a team that provides research, relationship management and reporting to all global advancement teams. He was co-lead on the organization's Salesforce implementation.

Currently, Thomas is the mentorship chair on the Apra DC Metro board, and serves on the Apra International Editorial Advisory Committee and Advocacy Committee. He is also on the advisory board for the Center for Christian Civics in Washington, D.C.

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