Each June, nonprofit and philanthropy leaders gather for the unveiling of what’s become an annual report card for charitable giving in America and, by extension, for fundraisers.

That report card is called Giving USA, a public service initiative of The Giving Institute, produced each year with assistance from its research partner, the Lily Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.

What’s in the report?

Based on IRS data and done using a complex model – one that is freely available for others to review and evaluate – the report tells us how much has been donated across the country in the previous tax year.  And it breaks these contributions down by source (individuals, foundations, bequests, corporations), giving us the best view of who is supporting what (health, education, arts & culture, etc.).

It is this report that provides us the long-standing proof that individuals are largely driving giving, making 72% of all donations (not counting the additional 8% from bequests and another 7% from family foundations).  And it is this report that nonprofit CEOs present to their boards throughout the country, giving them a sense of the overall giving picture in America.

This is an important use of Giving USA, educating the volunteer leadership who sometimes focus on potential corporate donors to the exclusion of people who make up the majority of the donor pool.  Another critical contribution the report makes is a view of giving over time.  The longest running study of its kind, Giving USA shows us how giving has fared over almost 60 years.  Although some might argue this is backward looking, there is true value in understanding the trend and how, for example, giving was affected during recessionary periods.

The examples I’ve given are worthy of discussion at a high level, helping your organization and its leaders understand the broader picture.  But if you stop the conversation there, you’re missing out on the true value of Giving USA for your own cause.

Giving USA – the report itself and the event of its annual launch in June – are opportunities for your nonprofit to be more strategic. 

The 5 ways to tap Giving USA data for year-round success:

  1. Go beyond the helpful, free executive summary The Giving Institute provides on its website, and secure a copy of the full report.  Read the chapters on how different types of nonprofits fared over the previous year and why.
  2. Compare your own organization’s fundraising with both the topline Giving USA results and those for your specific sector.  A simple analysis will help you see if the contributions you receive are overly weighted in one specific area, or lacking in another.
  3. Craft your own organization’s story and have it at the ready for the week before the Giving USA launch when the main stream media are seeking to write on philanthropy.  This is a window of opportunity for you, especially if you end up bucking a trend (for example, achieving growth well in excess of how overall giving is increasing).
  4. Leverage the data – from Giving USA and, similarly, a view of your own organization’s success – to tell a concise, compelling story about your organization all the time.  Identify the reporters who care about your area of work.  Using the Giving USA data as a part of your story, while showing how you compare, will give reporters something they always seek – a story with data.
  5. Set goals based on how your organization is performing today and where you’d like it to be tomorrow.  By the time the next Giving USA report comes out in June 2015, where do you want to be?  Will you strive to overachieve in your sector, making you the one to watch, the one in your community to support?

Rachel Hutchisson leads Blackbaud’s Corporate Citizenship & Philanthropy initiatives and can be reached on Twitter at @RachelHutchsson and @BizDoingGood

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Hutchisson is the vice president of corporate citizenship and philanthropy at Blackbaud, headquartered in Charleston, SC.  She is responsible for the company’s global corporate citizenship efforts, a role that allows her to leverage her 20+ years of experience of working with nonprofit partners.  She is a member of the board of directors for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) International, the Giving Institute (producers of Giving USA), and the Coastal Community Foundation.  She is also a Past President of the AFP SC Lowcountry chapter. Rachel is a graduate of Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, and received a master’s degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.  A member of Phi Beta Kappa, she is a Renaissance Weekend participant and was the recipient of the Charleston Regional Business Journal’s Influential Women in Business Rising Star Award.  Rachel is an avid soccer fan and spends far too much time driving to remote parts of the state to watch her children play.  Connect with Rachel on Twitter at @RachelHutchssn or on LinkedIn.

Get nonprofit articles, best practice advice, fundraising ideas and invaluable industry reports and webinars delivered for free!