Philanthropy Indicators:

Foundations Individual Giving Nonprofits Volunteering


Philanthropy and volunteerism reflect the desire of individuals to invest in building their communities, and the capacity of those individuals and their communities to identify and strategically resolve public problems. Participation in voluntary organizations serves as an avenue through which actions are both influenced and accomplished, and can ultimately increase social cohesion and social capital. Higher levels of participation and giving align with each individual’s ability to foster greater stores of network-based social capital.¹ These networks in turn provide the channels through which individuals can be recruited for good deeds, encouraging greater attention to others’ welfare.² In addition, the generosity of individuals and groups in donating money and volunteering time is critical to shaping the capacity of nonprofit organizations as they serve the community. Donate to the Center for Houston’s Future

Philanthropic giving has a long and distinguished history in the United States, and while volunteering and philanthropy may have originated from religious impulses, they have since expanded to many new institutions for organized altruism, including foundations, corporations, and community organizations.³ Gifts of both time and money have increased enormously since the Great Recession. Total giving in the U.S. is expected to grow by almost 5% in 2015, exceeding the estimated annualized average rate of growth during the years following the Great Recession (3%) and the estimated long-term growth from 1973-2013 (4%).⁴ Philanthropic giving also has a major impact on the economy: according to the Giving USA 2014 Annual Report, total charitable contributions in 2013 amounted to an estimated $335.2 billion (2% of U.S. GDP), and volunteer labor was valued at an estimated $163 billion.⁵

Sources cited

1. Eleanor Brown & James M. Ferris, “Social Capital and Philanthropy: An Analysis of the Impact of Social Capital on Individual giving and Volunteering,” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 2007, 89.

2. Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), 117.

3. Putnam, 117.

4. “The Philanthropy Outlook: 2015 and 2016,” Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, February 2015.

5. Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Research and Policy Development. Volunteering and Civic Life in America 2014, (2014). Retrieved from: http://www.volunteeringinamerica.gov/.