Fastest Growing Nonprofit Sectors

growth in the nonprofit sector

growth in the nonprofit sector

Charitable giving has been on a steady upward trend in the past few years. In fact, people have given more money to charity each year since 1977 with the exception of three years: 1987, 2008 and 2009. From 1977 to 2017, the average year-to-year increase in giving was $8.94 billion. In 2017 individuals and companies donated an estimated $410.02 billion to charitable causes. This amount is an increase in 5.2% from 2016. Moreover, the current-dollar change in total between just 2016 and 2017 was larger than the 40 year average (Charity Navigator). Those record high numbers tell us a great deal about the important role charities play in the nonprofit sector.

The Fastest Growing Nonprofit Divisions

It’s clear that people and individuals are giving more money to charity each year. Leading the pack in largest U.S. charities are United Way, Feeding America and Americares Foundation ( So what are the fastest growing nonprofit sectors? Here is a breakdown of where the donations are going and what kind of organizations make up those categories.

Environmental and Climate Charities

These charities focus on preserving and protecting the environment as well as understanding climate patterns and changes over time. They specialize in research and conservation as well as appreciation. Many of these charities promote conservation, sustainable land management and the study of energy resources. Other groups in this sector focus on botanical gardens, nature centers and other places that promote beautification campaigns. Tree planting and anti-litter campaigns are also quite popular in recent years.

Animal Services

Services for domestic and wild animals are ever-popular charities. These non-profit organizations protect and defend various groups of animals, as well as seek ways to sustain and promote different species. There are three main causes of animal charities: animal rights, services and welfare. These include humane societies, veterinary services and special training for guide dogs. As for wild animals, charities include conservation groups that raise money for research and protection around the Earth. Both environmental and animal charities saw an increase of 7.2% to $11.83 billion (Charity Navigator).

Religious Charities

Religious charities support and promote specific religions and worship of those religions. Generally, organizations classify religious charities into two main causes. The first one is religious activities, which support and promote various faiths. The second one is religious media and broadcasting, which includes programming and literature. For many years, religious groups received the largest share of charitable donations. In 2017, 31% of all donations went to religious organizations. This accounts for approximately $127.37 billion. Often, people contribute to their local place of worship.

Medical and Health Services

Charities that donate to medical and health services have many causes. One popular category is charities in diseases and disorders. The money allocated goes to seek cures for diseases, provide support and public understanding as well as medical research. Patient and family support is another popular classification of charity. These include wish-granting programs, camping programs and housing assistance. Support for patients and families of patients diagnosed with a serious illness is granted through these programs. Treatment and prevention services charities provide direct medical services to people. Additionally, they educate the public on ways to reduce health risks and prevent diseases. Finally, medical research groups direct their efforts to researching causes and cures of disease and developing new treatments for patients. Health charities increased from 15.5% to $38.27 billion.

Human Services

Many people feel strongly when it comes to human services charities. That’s because they provide networks of direct services to people in need for a variety of reasons. Donations to human services charities were up 5.1% to $50.06 billion (Charity Navigator). There are six main causes when it comes to human services:

Children’s and Family Services

These include adoption, foster care and child care. Families can also find counseling services within these services, parent education and welfare services.

Youth Development, Shelter and Crisis Services

Both children and youth benefit from these programs. Group homes, shelters and camps are all some of the services that individuals enjoy donating money to. At-risk children in particular benefit from these types of donations.

Food Pantries and Distribution Services

Always popular charities, these provide direct hunger relief to communities throughout the country.

Multipurpose Human Service Organizations

These organizations promote volunteering and provide a broad range of direct services in the communities they serve. For example, these organizations include YMCAs, YWCAs and the American Red Cross.

Homeless Services

Charities for homeless services raise money for homeless individuals and their families. Donations are in the form of both direct social services and advocacy.

Social Services

These charities provide programs for the underemployed and the disadvantaged citizens of our communities. There are many specific groups that benefit from these services, including the elderly.

Social Justice Causes

Philanthropy for social justice is another growing sector because many people are interested in changing public policy. These causes attract both individuals and organizations and seek to get to the root cause of social problems.

Who is Responsible for Giving?

When examining who is responsible for giving the money to these causes and organizations, there are several categories to name. It may not come as a surprise that the majority of giving came from individuals. More than 70% of giving in 2017 or $286.65 billion came from individuals. Giving by bequest made up for 9% of all donations. Foundations provided 16% of all donations, or $66.9 billion. Finally, corporations donated 5% of all donations or $20.77 billion (Charity Navigator).

Popular vs. Favorite Causes

The public does not necessarily donate the most amount of money to their “favorite” causes.

For example, in 2016, cancer was voted the most popular cause by far. It came in ahead of many other charities (Charity Financials) but charities supporting children and young people received the most money. (NFP Synergy).

Why does this matter? It’s important for charities to understand how their popularity works.

It’s also important to be wary of surveys that report how people intend to donate their money, because first of all, the numbers show that the most money is not going to the most popular causes, and secondly, it’s much smarter to report how people donated than how they intend to donate.

Charitable Giving in the Future

The numbers suggest that charitable giving will continue to increase in the future. While there are many reasons why people donate to charities, it’s important for nonprofits to understand how people respond to charitable giving in any economic climate. Also noteworthy is the fact that nonprofit sectors tend to share reputations, both positive and negative. So while larger donations from individuals and corporations tend to go towards well-known brands, each nonprofit has to connect with donors.

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