In 2018, charitable giving in the United States reached a record-breaking $427 billion, up from $410 billion the year before, according to philanthropy consultants CCS Fundraising. That’s more than the GDP of some small countries. Those contributions came from individuals, companies, foundations, and charitable bequests.

Ohioans raised $8.02 billion in 2016 (the latest figures from Philanthropy Ohio), making the state 13th in giving. Greater Cleveland is responsible for $1.9 billion of that total, says Danny Williams, quoting another CCS Fundraising report. Williams is president and chief executive officer of Eliza Bryant Village in Cleveland. An attorney by trade, he has more than 30 years’ experience in Northeast Ohio’s legal, nonprofit and community health fields.

What’s perhaps most impressive is that about 75 percent or about $1.4 billion of the Greater Cleveland total came from individuals, NOT corporations or foundations. That shows how much individual giving – large and small – matters, says Williams.

“I’ve not worked in other cities, but Northeast Ohio, from everything I’ve read, is more generous than many communities our size,” says Williams. “We historically have some of the strongest foundations. And, Cleveland has a strong faith community; that tends to inspire a lot of individual philanthropy.”

That said, the largest percentage of donations nationwide tend to fund religious institutions, according to the Giving USA Foundation. Next in line are education, human services, foundations and health, followed by a smattering of other causes.

The largest individual givers in Northeast Ohio, those donating $1 million or more, tend to donate to health care, universities and the arts, says Williams. Meanwhile, local foundations pay more attention to primary education.

Corporate giving, he says, tends to higher education. “That’s because the corporate community is trying to reverse the brain drain. They want to keep bright, enthusiastic students in Northeast Ohio.”

Bob Cahen, president for the Greater Cleveland Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and former executive director of The Lakeland Foundation, says technology has made fundraising more sophisticated. Social media has raised awareness of nonprofits and their financial situations. Think about those Facebook birthday fundraisers by friends.
Expanded public awareness also means that a few clicks on a website gives donors information about a nonprofit’s successes. This heightens competition for dollars. Donors often focus on return-on-investment not people, says Williams. Return-on-investment means the obvious outcome produced by the non-profit – higher graduation rates, for example.
He is acutely aware of the challenges that come with today’s larger focus on ROI. “How do you measure ROI when you’re talking quality of life for old people who don’t contribute to society anymore,” he asks. He’s referring to his role at Eliza Bryant Village. The mission there is “to provide quality services, outreach programs and a dignified, compassionate and secure living environment for seniors.”

“What’s the business case for investment in humanity,” he says rhetorically. “There’s no obvious ROI, but it’s still appropriate. Those issues are hard for some people to get their arms around.”
Putting ROI aside, Cahen says giving options – both agencies and approaches – are broader than ever before. With nonprofits becoming more visible it can be harder to determine where to give.
That may present a problem in the future if the percentage of American households that report making charitable gifts continues declining. In fact, since 2000, the percentage of U.S. households claiming nonprofit donations has dropped from 66 percent to 55 percent.

“Evidence of this trend can be seen in decreasing support in the religious sector, declining alumni participation rates at many educational institutions, and lower engagement in several leading corporate matching gift programs,” according to one report.

Perhaps one of the biggest questions on the mind of the fundraising community is how Millennials will pick of the mantle as they grow into their charitable years.