Giving USA just released its report on 2018 philanthropy, and the news is somewhat sobering. Total charitable giving rose by only 0.7%; when adjusted for inflation, it actually declined by 1.7%.
Some experts are blaming the new tax law, which requires itemized deductions to exceed $12,000, up from $6,350 for single filers. For married couples, that number increased from $12,700 to $24,000.
“We certainly do have a pretty stark picture that tax reform took effect and charitable giving declined,” said Laura MacDonald, the president of Benefactor Group and vice chair of the Giving USA foundation board. However, a volatile stock market, which took a dive near the end of the year, may have also played a role, she said.
One analysis from the Tax Policy Center estimated that the number of itemizers fell from to about 19 million under the new tax law from about 46 million. At the same time, lower tax rates reduced the marginal benefit of giving, as well, the Tax Policy Center said.
“Tax reform probably hit the middle households that used to itemize the hardest,” MacDonald said. Middle- and lower-income families reduced giving as a result — a shift that could prove problematic for non-profits in the long run, she said. “The more that revenue is concentrated in a few sources, the more risk there is.”
Does this signal a downward trend in giving? Do tax benefits really affect philanthropy that much? Or do nonprofits have to do a better job of inspiring people to believe they can make a difference with their gifts?