This article is from the Nonprofit Quarterly’s fall 2017 edition, “The Changing Skyline of U.S. Giving.”

Two topographies define the landscape of American giving. One is marked by majestic ascent. Over the past half century, the amount of money Americans give to charitable causes has steadily increased each year, except during times of recession. The earliest comprehensive tabulations of annual total giving, prepared for the Giving USA reports in the 1950s, were presented under the heading “The March of Philanthropy,” suggesting the confident spirit with which they were interpreted. That spirit endures. The 2017 Giving USA report announced a record high of just over $390 billion given to charitable causes in 2016, an increase of 2.7 percent from the year before. Even in such an “unusual year,” the report’s authors declared, “Americans continued to be generous.”1