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Key insights into the future of philanthropy

As the philanthropic landscape changes, the way donors perceive and approach giving is evolving, too — though not always at the same pace. The Future of Philanthropy provides insight into the priorities of individual donors, who generate 87 percent of all charitable giving in the United States,1 and offers a glimpse of where emerging generations may steer philanthropy in the future. The report details the results of a survey of 3,200 donors who answered substantive questions regarding their outlook on and engagement with giving.2 What causes are the most important to address for the future? Who are the changemakers they trust to provide solutions to society’s problems going forward, and who do they believe should pay for those solutions? What trends shift the ways they give? The answers to these questions reveal both traditional and non-traditional approaches to giving that will continue to shape giving for years to come.

Learn more about the Future of Philanthropy

Giving today

The world has become a more complex place, and donors' changing perceptions of giving reflects that complexity.

  • Donors identify a wide range of social problems as important to solve for the future, prioritizing issues related to health and hunger.
  • However, donors see giving as just one element in solving these large, intractable problems.
  • Three-quarters are only somewhat optimistic that their giving can solve the issues most important to them.
  • This tempered response reflects both their motivations for giving and their perceptions of the intricate framework required for social change.

Trends shaping donor giving

Transparency, technology and evolving attitudes toward wealth are reshaping donors' approaches to giving.

  • Philanthropy has become more results-focused for many donors. Forty-one percent of donors say they have changed their giving due to increased knowledge about nonprofit effectiveness.
  • Twenty-seven percent of donors say their approach to giving has changed due to technological advances that provide convenient tools for researching and funding charitable projects and organizations.
  • A smaller but significant number say their giving has been affected by trends related to charitable planning, such as donating one's wealth to charity rather than passing it down to family, and using giving methods and vehicles to give more to charity.
Millennials and Baby Boomers are two generations transforming philanthropy

Broadened view of changemakers

Donors have an expanded view of which groups will successfully develop solutions for society's challenges — and of who should be responsible for funding them.

  • Donors see nonprofits and public-private partnerships as the most likely to develop solutions.
  • In addition, donors believe other specific sectors have a role to play in solving for society’s challenges, including religious institutions, universities, businesses and social enterprises.
  • Donors think the two groups that should do more to fund change are business and individual donors.
The trends shaping donor giving: transparency, technology, and the democratization of philanthropy

Generational differences transforming philanthropy

Generational shifts are driving the transformation of philanthropy, demonstrated by the differences between two major forces in giving, Baby Boomers and Millennials.

  • Millennials' worldview is distinct from that of Baby Boomers. They approach philanthropy with a more global, social and inclusive outlook and express more optimism about philanthropy’s ability to impact the issues most important to them.
  • Millennials are much more likely to have incorporated new philanthropic trends into their giving. Sixty percent have been influenced by two or more trends, compared with 37 percent of Boomers.
  • Millennials are more likely than Baby Boomers to believe almost all sectors have a role to play in solving society’s challenges, a view likely influenced by the interconnected world in which they’ve grown up.
1Giving USA Foundation, "Giving USA 2016: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2015," 2016. Researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
2Unless otherwise noted, data in The Future of Philanthropy is based on a survey of donors in the United States who give to charity and itemized charitable giving on their 2015 tax returns.

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