Giving to Largest U.S. Charities Up 7 Percent, Fidelity Tops List

Giving to the largest four hundred U.S. charities in 2015 increased 7 percent, to a record $104 billion, with nonprofit donor-advised fund Fidelity Charitable grabbing the top spot as the nation's largest charity, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports.

According to the twenty-sixth edition of the Chronicle's Philanthropy 400, which ranks the largest charities by fundraising revenue, Fidelity Charitable raised $4.6 billion in 2015, up 20 percent on a year-over-year basis, edging out United Way Worldwide, which saw its revenue fall 4 percent, to $3.7 billion. The two organizations have for years been running neck-and-neck in the Chronicle's annual ranking, as nonprofit donor-advised funds gained on traditional charities like the Salvation Army (No. 6 in this year's list), the American Red Cross (No. 31), and Harvard University (No. 14). Rounding out the top five in this year's rankings were Feeding America ($2.5 billion), the Schwab Charitable Fund ($2.1 billion), and Catholic Charities USA ($2 billion).

While social service organizations continued to raise more than organizations in other categories, the Salvation Army, No. 6 on the list, (revenues down 10 percent), Goodwill Industries International, No. 18 (down 2.6 percent), and the American Red Cross, No. 31 (down 16.4 percent) all saw their fundraising results tumble. United Way Worldwide president Brian Gallagher told the Chronicle the decline in his organization's results reflects fundamental shifts in the economy — including corporate consolidation and wage stagnation — that undercut its workplace-giving programs. "Middle-class Americans haven't seen an increase in income in over thirty years and that affects us directly," said Gallagher, who noted that United Way's average contribution is $365, compared with the minimum $5,000 a donor must contribute to Fidelity Charitable.

Giving to Fidelity Charitable has jumped, said its president, Pamela Norley, in large part because it has invested in making online-giving transactions easy. "A lot of what [donor-advised funds] have brought to charities and our donors is really technology," said Norley. "It's an intermediary between the donor and charity that allows the process of giving to be simpler and more transparent and easier for record-keeping."

The growing popularity of donor-advised funds — according to a Chronicle analysis, eighty-five of the largest DAF sponsors managed $51 billion in assets in 2013, up some 159 percent since 2008 — have some critics worried that the accounts are attracting funds that would otherwise go to charities that would put them to use immediately. Indeed, while the total dollar amount of grants awarded by DAFs has increased steadily, and Fidelity Charitable disbursed $3 billion last year, the payout rate of DAFs in the Chronicle analysis fell from 20 percent in 2008 to 14 percent  in 2013. To encourage their fund holders to give more expeditiously, some DAF sponsors are increasing penalties on dormant accounts. The Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program (No. 11 on the Chronicle's list with $1.2 billion raised), for example, now places a 5 percent charge on accounts that remain idle for five years. "We don't want the money to get trapped; that's very anti-mission," said Vanguard president Jane Greenfield.

Peter Olsen-Phillips, Eden Stiffman. "Fidelity Charitable Pushes United Way Out of Top Place in Ranking of the 400 U.S. Charities That Raise the Most." Chronicle of Philanthropy 10/27/2016. Alex Daniels, Drew Lindsay. "Flush With $51 Billion, Donor-Advised Funds Face Questions About Payouts." Chronicle of Philanthropy 10/27/2016.