Posts tagged ‘economy’

November 8, 2018

Did the Midterm Elections Help or Hurt Your Nonprofit?

I’m a news junkie. So, I was up very late on election night, actually very early the next morning. Now that I’ve caught up on some sleep, I’ve been thinking about what the midterm election means to charities. In this post, I’ll layout some of my nonpartisan thinking. Just be warned, I’m also going to share some statistics and a bit of history as we consider what the election means for the nonprofit sector.

The midterm elections this week resulted in the Democratic Party regaining control of the US House of Representatives. Let’s put that into a bit of historical perspective. Despite successfully securing a majority in the House, the Democratic Party’s much-hoped-for Blue Wave did not materialize. As I write this post, the Democrats are expected to gain a 27 to 34 seat advantage over Republicans in the House. However, Republicans not only hung on to control of the Senate, they actually enhanced their position by three to five seats.

To put the Federal election results into some context, let’s look at the 2010 midterm elections during President Barack Obama’s second year in office. Going into the 2010 election, Obama’s approval rating was six points higher than Trump’s was prior to the 2018 election. Nevertheless, Democrats lost 63 House seats and lost six Senate seats.

“[The 2018 midterm elections are] only the third time in the past 100 years that the party holding the White House has gained seats in the Senate in a midterm election while losing seats in the House,” according to MarketWatch. “The President’s party has won seats in both the House and Senate just twice in the past century in a midterm election.”

This all means that both Democrats and Republicans can declare success this week. But, what about the nonprofit sector?

While it’s too early to know with any certainty, there are some things we learned on election night and other things we can learn from history:

1. Impact on the Election. In the lead up to the vote, nonprofit organizations flexed their muscle along with their corresponding Political Action Committees. On a variety of issues, the nonprofit sector demonstrated that it could have a profound impact on public policy. Regardless of where you stand on the issues, here are just a few examples to illustrate the point:

In Massachusetts, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Campaign, MassEquality, Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, The Yes on 3 Campaign, and other organizations joined forces and scored a massive victory on election night when voters, by a two-to-one margin, reaffirmed the rights of transgender people.

In North Carolina, voters approved a measure directing the legislature to amend the state constitution to guarantee the right of citizens to hunt and fish. This was a victory for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and the National Rifle Association.

In Florida, the Humane Society of the United States and PETA persuaded voters to change the state constitution to ban greyhound racing.

Nonprofit organizations have political power. When nonprofit organizations join forces, they can have a dramatic effect on public policy.

2. Good News for the Stock Market. Historically, Americans prefer divided government, so it’s not surprising that Democrats were able to regain control of the House. Like the populace, the stock market also prefers divided government.

“Here’s what Investor’s Business Daily found, looking at S&P 500 returns during each two-year election cycle, from election day to election day. The best outcome, an average 18.7% two-year return, came when Congress was divided. Unified control of Congress by the same party as the president yielded an average 17.3% two-year gain. When control of Congress was unified under the opposition party, gains averaged 15.7%.”

If the stock market goes up, many donors will own appreciated stocks that they can donate to charities. Foundations will see their stock holdings grow and, therefore, have more money to grant to nonprofits. That would be good news for investors and charities.

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October 12, 2018

As Giving Lags, Alarm Bells Sound. Should You Worry?

While the story at some individual charities might be different, charitable giving in the sector for the first half of 2018 is lagging behind the first six months of 2017, both in terms of the number of donors and the amount donated. That’s according to a recent report from the Fundraising Effectiveness Project.

As I write this post, the stock market has just taken a two-day beating with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 1,378 points.

I won’t blame you if you’re feeling a bit pessimistic about philanthropy these days. However, I will respectfully suggest that you shouldn’t be overly worried. As I wrote in the current issue of Advancing Philanthropy, the official magazine of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, there are actually plenty of reasons for us to be optimistic about the current fundraising environment.

In my article for AFP, I show you how you can be your own fundraising superhero with six tips that will help you control your fundraising destiny. I also detail nine reasons for you to be upbeat about the current philanthropic environment as you seek year-end gifts. However, for now, I’ll just highlight some of the reasons why you should be upbeat about fundraising as year-end and the start of a new year approach:

1. Stock Market Growth. Despite the hit the stock market took this week, it remains above the 52-week level. An adjustment was expected. While volatile, the stock market is likely to stabilize somewhat and even continue to grow.

2. Dire Predictions Really Are Not that Dire. Some have predicted that the new federal tax code will negatively affect philanthropic giving. While it’s too soon to draw a firm conclusion, we do know that even if the worst-case prediction comes true, overall philanthropy will once again be approximately two percent of Gross Domestic Product, where it has been for decades.

3. Economic Growth. GDP growth for the first half of the year has been strong. If economic growth continues, as the Federal Reserve believes it will, this will likely have a positive effect on charitable giving. Remember, there’s a long correlation between philanthropy and GDP.

4. New Tax Code. For both individuals and corporations, a reduction in taxes makes more money available for charitable contributions. For example, many corporations (e.g., Wells Fargo, Southwest Airlines, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Best Buy, BB&T, Apple, Ally Financial, and others) have announced commitments to significantly increase corporate giving.

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October 1, 2018

Here are 3 Simple Steps to Avoid a Year-End Appeal Disaster

We’re now in the fourth quarter of the calendar year. It’s that special time of year when most charitable giving happens. That’s due, in part, to the fact that charities are out in force soliciting contributions as the year nears a close.

While there are many things you can and should do, I’m going to keep it easy. I’m going to give you three simple steps (and a bunch of useful tips) that will help you avoid a year-end appeal disaster:

Step 1 – Make a Year-End Appeal: You should test doing a beginning-of-the-year appeal in January/February since tax-avoidance is less of an issue for more people under the new tax code (see my post about this by clicking here). However, the fourth-quarter season-of-giving certainly remains the traditional time to ask for support. So, unless you have data for your organization that suggests otherwise, make sure you have a year-end appeal. The surest way to have a disastrous year-end fundraising appeal is not to have one.

As you plan your appeal, be sure to segment your prospect file. Treating your prospects as one homogeneous group may make your job easier, but it won’t help you keep your job. You’ll achieve much better results if you segment your prospect pool and target each segment with a tailored appeal.

For example, your message to existing donors will be different from your message to acquisition prospects. For starters, you’ll want to thank existing donors for their support before asking for another gift. Other segments might include monthly donors (You do have a monthly-donor program, right?), volunteers, past service recipients, event participants, etc.

In addition to tailoring your message to each segment, be sure to customize the ask. It’s inappropriate to ask an acquisition prospect for $1,000. Conversely, it’s also inappropriate to ask a $500 donor for $50. Just as bad, it’s a horrible mistake to not ask for a specific dollar amount or not to ask at all.

Step 2 – Have a Solid Case for Support: If you want people to give money to your organization, you need to make a compelling case for support. This is particularly true at this time of year when virtually every other nonprofit organization is out there looking for donations, too. Why should people respond to your direct-mail appeal (or phone solicitation, or face-to-face ask, etc.) instead of the appeal from another organization, perhaps one with a similar mission to yours? Address that question, and you’ll have greater success.

A strong case for support is particularly important when appealing to folks who have already contributed this year. They’ll want to know how you spent their money, the impact they have already had, and why you need more. Tell them those things, and you’ll increase the chance of getting another gift.

In addition to having a solid case for support, you’ll want to create some urgency. Why should people give to your organization now? If you’re the Salvation Army, people automatically get why you’re asking around holiday time. For pretty much any other organization, you’ll have to give prospects a good reason. And if that reason magnifies the impact that the donor’s gift will have, so much the better.

For example, you can have a challenge grant that matches all gifts received through the end of the year. Or, you could have the cost of your appeal underwritten by a major donor so you can legitimately tell prospective donors that 100 percent of their contributions to the appeal will go toward mission fulfillment. Both of these ideas will create urgency while magnifying the impact your donors can have.

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August 3, 2018

Fantastic News and Opportunity for the Nonprofit Sector!

The nonprofit sector received a major piece of good news at the end of July. American Gross Domestic Product in the second quarter of 2018 grew at the annualized rate of 4.1 percent. This represents the economy’s fastest growth rate since 2014. GDP growth in the first-quarter was a healthy, though unremarkable, 2.2 percent.

I don’t really care if you love or hate President Donald Trump. I’m not making a political statement. I’m simply reporting on an economic fact that has profound implications for nonprofit organizations.

The news is fantastic for charities because overall-philanthropy correlates with GDP. For more than four decades, philanthropy has been between 1.6 and 2.2 percent of GDP. In 2017, philanthropy was once again at 2.1 percent (Giving USA). This means that when the economy grows, we can expect growth in charitable giving.

Think of it this way: For more than 40 years, the nonprofit sector has received about a two percent slice of the economic pie. It’s safe to say that that approximate proportion will continue. So, if the economic pie becomes larger, that two percent slice becomes larger as well.

While I’m oversimplifying, my fundamental point is sound: When the economy grows, so does philanthropy.

Some economists and commentators believe the robust GDP growth rate is not sustainable. However, if the impressive economic growth continues, or even if growth continues at a more moderate pace, we can still expect 2018 to be a good year for charitable fundraising.

Given the positive economic environment, you have an opportunity to successfully raise money for your organization. But, it’s up to you to seize that opportunity while the positive economic environment lasts.

Here are 10 things you can do to raise more money while the economy is good:

1. Hug your donors. Ok, maybe not literally. However, you do need to let your donors know you love and appreciate them. Do you quickly acknowledge gifts? You should do so within 48 hours. Do you effectively thank donors? You should do so in at least seven different ways. You should review your thank-you letters to ensure they are heartfelt, meaningful, and effective. Have board members call donors to thank them in addition to your standard thank-you letter.

2. Tell donors about the impact of their gifts. Donors want to know that their giving is making a difference. If their giving isn’t making a difference or they aren’t sure, they’re more likely to give elsewhere. So, report to your donors. Tell them what their giving is achieving and that their support is being used efficiently.

3. Start a new recognition program. One small nonprofit organization I know started a new, special corporate giving club. CEOs of the corporate members are placed on an advisory board, receive special recognition, and are provided with networking opportunities. This new recognition program generated over $50,000 in just a few months. While enhancing existing recognition efforts is beneficial, starting a new recognition program can yield significant results.

4. Ask. Your organization is providing important services. It needs money. Give people the opportunity to support your worthy mission. When you ask for support, just be certain not to limit the ask to cash gifts. Research shows that organizations that receive non-monetary donations (e.g., stocks, bonds, personal property, real estate, etc.) grow significantly more than organizations that receive only cash contributions. Partly as a result of the new income tax code, the number of Donor-Advised Funds has grown significantly. So, make it easy for your supporters to give from their DAFs.

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April 13, 2018

Why are Fundraising Results Missing the Mark?

The nonprofit sector has an unfortunate secret. While not a well-kept secret, it is nevertheless something that receives too little attention. So, let’s take a moment to shine a spotlight on the issue.

Overall, American philanthropy has remained at approximately two percent of Gross Domestic Product for over six decades, with the percentage bouncing between 1.6 and 2.3 percent, according to Giving USA. Every year when the amount of money donated to charities goes up, the nonprofit sector pats itself on the back even though it is merely keeping pace with GDP.

Despite the massive growth in the number of nonprofit organizations, the significant increase in availability of educational materials, the production of helpful research, the professionalization of the fundraising field, and the rise of new technologies, the nonprofit sector has failed to budge philanthropy relative to GDP.

Now, as a committee convened by The Giving Institute begins to consider ways to grow philanthropy beyond the two-percent-of-GDP mark, I’ve written an article for the Association of Fundraising Professionals magazine, Advancing Philanthropy, that explores the challenge: “What Will It Take to Dramatically Increase Philanthropy?”

To answer that question, we need to understand how and why past attempts to do so have come up short, such as the insightful work of the Commission on Private Philanthropy and Public Needs in the 1970s.

We also need to understand the broad societal cultural factors that are affecting philanthropy so that we can develop strategies for inspiring cultural change and/or adapt to factors beyond our control (e.g., decline in religious affiliation, erosion of social capital, drop in volunteerism, etc.). Furthermore, we need to understand the cultural issues within the nonprofit sector that block change and, ultimately, greater success.

We also must set a realistic, consensus goal for moving the philanthropic needle. While that goal should be bold, it should also be based on something other than a dream. A credible target mark will give us all something to shoot for.

As Henry David Thoreau once wrote:

In the long-run, [people] hit only what they aim at.”

While it will likely take at least a couple of years for The Giving Institute’s commission to do its work, you and I do not need to wait. There are things we can do now to begin to move closer to a more vital philanthropic mark, something greater than two percent of GDP:

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January 5, 2018

How Bad is the New Tax Code for Your Charity?

If you’ve been reading the mainstream press, or even some of the industry media, you might believe that the future is all doom and gloom for charitable giving thanks to the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. But, how bad will things really be for you and your nonprofit organization?

As a former newspaper editor, I know that the media lives by the axiom: If it bleeds, it leads. In other words, negativity attracts readers and viewers, which in turn attracts advertising dollars. So, it’s no surprise that the media have put the new tax code in the most negative light when it comes to charitable giving.

Fortunately, reality is something quite a bit different. Let me explain, using figures from 2016 (the most current numbers available).

Overall, charitable giving totaled $390.05 billion. US Gross Domestic Product totaled $18.6 trillion. Therefore, total philanthropy in 2016 equaled 2.1 percent of GDP.

As a result of the new tax code, charitable giving could decline by approximately $21 billion, according to Patrick Rooney, PhD, Executive Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Professor of Economics and Philanthropic Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University.

However, is that number accurate? Unfortunately, we have no way of truly knowing as Rooney himself states.

For example, the estimated philanthropic decline of $21 billion does not take into account the impact of a likely increase in Gross Domestic Product.

Because philanthropy closely correlates to GDP at the rate of approximately two percent, we can expect a rise in GDP to result in a rise in giving.

So, how much will GDP rise? Again, no one knows for certain. The estimates vary greatly from 0.08 to 0.35 percentage points. The Tax Foundation provided the latter estimate. Applying that percentage to the 2016 GDP, we would see GDP increase by $651 billion. If two percent of that increase goes to charitable giving, that would be approximately $13 billion. So, Rooney’s prediction of a $21 billion decline in philanthropy could be mitigated partially by GDP growth resulting in just an $8 billion drop in giving. However, even that number could be further offset by growth in foundation giving resulting from robust growth in the stock market.

Simply put, the new tax code could increase GDP and stock values leading to more charitable giving that could, at least partially, offset any potential decline in giving resulting from the new tax policy.

For the sake of discussion, however, let’s assume a $21 billion drop in giving, as Rooney outlined. That would take philanthropy as a percentage of GDP from 2.1 percent to 1.9 percent, using 2016 numbers. This is still within the 40+ year historical range.

The bottom line is that the new tax law could result in a decline in charitable giving. However, we don’t know for certain if that will be the case and, if it is, how much the dip will be. Even if there is a dip, giving will still remain at historically typical levels, around two percent of GDP. Furthermore, there is the possibility that the pundits are mistaken and that charitable giving will actually increase. Time will tell.

While the new tax code may change how and when people donate, history teaches us that changes in the tax code have only a short-term impact on the amount of giving though the methods and timing may vary. For example, the Reagan tax cuts resulted in greater year-end giving in 1986 before giving normalized thereafter. Furthermore, while a dip of billions of dollars is a big number, the reality is that it is not massive in the context of overall philanthropy.

Here are some of the relevant items you need to know from the 500+ page Tax Cut and Jobs Act signed into law on December 22, 2017 by President Donald Trump:

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January 27, 2017

Your #Charity is Losing Big Money If It Ignores This Giving Option

If you’re like most fundraising professionals, you’re ignoring one high-potential giving option. Sadly, it could be costing your nonprofit organization a fortune.

I’m talking about gifts of appreciated securities (e.g., stocks).

The Wall Street Bull.

The Wall Street Bull.

Just days ago, the Dow broke through the 20,000 level to set a new record close. The NASDAQ and the S&P 500 are also in record territory. As stock values have continued their post-election rally, many more Americans now hold appreciated stocks.

In 2016, 52 percent of Americans said they owned stocks in some form, according to Gallup. While that’s down from the 65 percent who owned stocks prior to the Great Recession, a majority of Americans still hold stock, directly, in mutual funds, and in retirement accounts.

Given that most Americans own stock and many of those stocks have appreciated in value, the nonprofit sector has a tremendous opportunity.

Contributing appreciated stocks provides donors with some important benefits:

  • It gives donors access to a pool of money with which to donate that would not otherwise be available to them for other purposes without negative tax consequences.
  • Contributors who donate appreciated stocks may be able to avoid paying the capital gains tax on those securities.
  • Donors may also be able to take a charitable-gift tax deduction based on the value of the stock donated.

Given the benefits for the donor and the nonprofit organization, I’m puzzled about why more charities aren’t stepping up to promote gifts of appreciated securities.

I know. I know. You’re organization’s website probably mentions this giving option in passing. For example, my alma mater Temple University promotes gifts of appreciated stock and mutual funds on its website. Unfortunately, it takes three clicks from the Home Page to find the 82-word statement buried on the vaguely named page “More Ways to Give.” I suppose that’s a bit better than the charities that don’t mention this giving option at all.

On the other hand, the American Civil Liberties Union does a better job of promoting stock gifts on its website. Furthermore, unlike Temple University, the ACLU site provides all of the information and instructions a donor will need in order to make a gift of stock.

To help donors understand the value of donating stock, The National Philanthropic Trust, which manages Donor Advised Funds, includes a hypothetical case study on its website to illustrate the value of donating appreciated stock.

Savvy donors, perhaps more donors than in recent years, are already benefitting by donating appreciated stocks.

For example, NPT saw an increase of stock gifts last year. Eileen Heisman, NPT’s President and CEO, reports:

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December 23, 2016

Was 2016 a Good Year for #CharitableGiving? Will 2017 be Better?

We’re rapidly approaching the close of what has been a tumultuous year. In 2016, the USA experienced an unusually bitter presidential campaign culminating in the unexpected election of Donald Trump. In the UK, voters chose to exit the European Union; the surprise Brexit vote sent shockwaves around the globe. The civil war in Syria continued to spin out of control resulting in a massive wave of refugees. Terrorism continued to be an international problem.

Uncertainty, fear, and stress are all words that one might use to describe the atmosphere in 2016 given much of the news. However, at least for fundraising professionals, there has also been much good news:

total-giving-as-a-percentage-of-gross-domestic• The third-quarter 2016 annualized Gross Domestic Product growth rate is 3.5 percent, according to the US Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. This is important because philanthropy closely correlates to GDP with overall giving being approximately two percent of GDP.

• Personal income has modestly increased in 2016, according to the BEA. Individual giving correlates to personal income at the rate of about two percent.

• The stock market has been achieving new record highs since the election with the Dow approaching 20,000. Increased stock values mean foundations will have more money to grant and individuals will have more appreciated securities they can donate.

• The price of crude oil is the lowest it’s been in more than a decade, according to Macrotrends. This means lower gasoline and heating oil prices for consumers thereby providing them with more disposable income.

• Third-quarter 2016 corporate profits were up, rising to the highest level since the first-quarter of 2015, according to Trading Economics and the US Bureau of Economics Analysis.

• The nonprofit sector saw #GivingTuesday philanthropic support worldwide grow at the rate of 44 percent, reports NonProfitPRO. While this might not reflect an increase in philanthropy, it does reveal the public’s philanthropic spirit at a time of year historically defined by commercialism.

• Blackbaud, which analyzes more than $18 billion in charitable giving, sees a 3.5 percent increase in donations in 2016 compared with 2015, reports MarketWatch. You can read my comments in the article as well as additional information from Blackbaud.

• Some progressive charities have seen dramatic increases in philanthropic support since the election, reports MarketWatch. It remains to be seen whether this represents an increase in philanthropy or merely a shift in giving priorities. In any case, it reveals that contributions are often driven by philanthropic passions.

• In a Harris Poll survey for CARE USA, 15 percent of respondents say they have or will increase their charitable giving in 2016. While I have a number of problems with the survey methodology, the results are nevertheless somewhat hopeful.

Taking all of the positive news together, we can expect to see that philanthropic giving has increased in 2016. To learn how much growth we have experienced, we’ll need to wait until all of the data has been compiled and analyzed. While I don’t expect a massive growth rate, I do expect good growth. Furthermore, I expect the good news to continue into 2017:

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July 7, 2016

Should You Worry about Election-Year Tax Plans?

As Americans, we should be generally concerned with who our next President will be. The outcome has both personal and professional implications for you, even if you’re one of my international readers.

Presidential Seal by Jason Seliskar via FlickrWho will be best for the future of the nation and the world? Who will voters elect?:

Whether you’re a nonprofit manager, fundraising professional, and/or donor, you should also be concerned about which of the candidates will be best for the charity sector. Government policies, particularly tax policies, can have a significant impact on charitable giving.

If new government policies lead to greater economic growth, nonprofit organizations will likely benefit. Giving USA has shown that charitable giving consistently correlates to roughly two percent of Gross Domestic Product. So, if the nation experiences more robust economic growth, we can expect more robust philanthropic growth. The converse is also true.

If new government policies lead to greater personal income, nonprofit organizations will likely benefit as Giving USA has revealed that giving also consistently correlates to approximately two percent of personal income.

So, which Presidential candidate is best? Well, that’s a simple question with a complex answer. Evaluating the potential impact of each plan will never generate a consensus among economists. Furthermore, it’s doubtful that any of the plans will be adopted as presented. Congress will still have its say. And Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has introduced his own tax proposal.

While I will not tell you which candidate will be best for the country and the nonprofit sector — I don’t happen to own a crystal ball — I will provide you with a few key, relevant highlights of each plan. I hope you’ll then take the time to learn a bit more about each candidate and his/her proposals so that you can make an informed choice this November and be prepared when change arrives.

I also encourage you to visit the seemingly non-partisan website I Side With to take a quiz that will match your answers with the positions the candidates have taken on a variety of issues. At the conclusion of the quiz, you’ll be told how your positions align with those of each of the candidates. The results might surprise you. If you’re one of my international readers, I still encourage you to take the quiz to see how our presidential candidates align with your values so you’ll know who to root for.

Now, let’s take a brief look at some of the highlights from the various tax proposals:

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June 14, 2016

Happy Days are Here Again … for Now

Charitable giving in the USA reached a record high for the second year in a row, according to the newly released Giving USA 2016: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2015, a publication of Giving USA Foundation, researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

While the news is good, storm clouds are gathering on the horizon. You need to hear both the good and the troubling news. I’ve tried to distill the most relevant, overarching information for you and provide you with some tips to help you be more successful moving forward. While I would normally advise against sharing lots of statistics, I nevertheless think you’ll appreciate these numbers.

Source Pie Chart_June 13 2016Researchers estimate that giving totaled $373.25 billion in 2015.

That new peak in contributions represents a record level whether measured in current or inflation-adjusted dollars. In 2015, total giving grew 4.1 percent in current dollars (4.0 percent when adjusted for inflation) over 2014.

The revised inflation-adjusted estimate for total giving in 2014 was $359.04 billion, with current-dollar growth of 7.8 percent, and an inflation-adjusted increase of 6.1 percent.

Charitable contributions from all four sources — individuals, charitable bequests, corporations, foundations — went up in 2015, with those from individuals once again leading the way in terms of total dollar amount, at $264.58 billion. This follows the historical pattern seen over more than six decades.

Giving to eight of the nine nonprofit categories studied grew with only giving to foundations declining (down 3.8 percent in current dollars, down 4.0 percent adjusted for inflation).

Giving to the category of International Affairs — $15.75 billion — grew the most (up 17.5 percent in current dollars, up 17.4 percent adjusted for inflation).

Giving to the category Arts/Culture/Humanities — $17.07 billion — grew the second most (up 7.0 percent in current dollars, up 6.8 percent adjusted for inflation).

While the numbers are terrific, the story is really about more than that. Giving USA Foundation Chair W. Keith Curtis, president of the nonprofit consulting firm The Curtis Group, says:

If you look at total giving by two-year time spans, the combined growth for 2014 and 2015 hit double digits, reaching 10.1 percent when calculated using inflation-adjusted dollars. But, these findings embody more than numbers — they also are a symbol of the American spirit. It’s heartening that people really do want to make a difference, and they’re supporting the causes that matter to them. Americans are embracing philanthropy at a higher level than ever before.”

While the 2015 giving news is certainly positive, there are four points that indicate that the good news might be short lived:

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