Adverse scenarios can certainly affect nonprofit organizations worldwide and could have a significant impact on travel, commerce and other variables. Nonprofit organizations are an important pillar of the global response to an adverse scenario. Past examples include free meals to students home from school, services to senior citizens, all-important medical supplies, and more. As a result, nonprofit organizations are likely to feel the impact of adverse scenarios through new and challenging fundraising obstacles, heightened portfolio volatility, and calls to action within the community.

Organizations should continue to engage their supporters and consider innovative practices to help overcome the social constraints presented by the pandemic. In our white paper Maintaining Donor Engagement during the COVID-19 Pandemic, we discuss alternative options available for nonprofit organizations raising funds to support their missions.

Here we discuss the correlation between total charitable giving and the broader economy, with a focus on fundraising through adverse scenarios.

Setting the Stage

It is no surprise to us that the level of total charitable giving in a year is highly correlated to economic activity. Charts 1 and 2 plot charitable giving against US GDP, a broad measure of the strength of the domestic economy, and the S&P 500® Price Return Index, a broad measure of the performance of the domestic stock market. The growth of charitable giving is closely correlated to these two measures. That is, when these economic indicators go up, charitable giving tends to rise; conversely, when they go down, charitable giving growth tends to slow.

Chart 1: US GDP versus Total Charitable Giving, as of 12/31/19 


View accessible version of this chart.

Chart 2: S&P 500 Price Return Index versus Total Charitable Giving, as of 12/31/19 


Source: FactSet® Research Systems Inc., Giving USA 2020: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2019. Researched and written by Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Sponsored by Giving USA Foundation, a public service initiative of The Giving Institute.

View accessible version of this chart.

Table 1 shows that the correlation between the S&P 500 and GDP with charitable giving is highly positive in the same year (keeping in mind that correlation ranges from -1 to 1). Further, these two economic indicators also have a strong positive correlation to charitable giving in the following year. Indeed, when the economy is doing well and donors (of all types) have more money in their pockets, they are more likely to contribute to your organization. Conversely, when the economy is doing poorly or investment markets are experiencing a downturn, charitable giving still occurs, but charitable giving growth tends to decrease.

Table 1: Correlation between Economic Factors and Charitable Giving, 1990-2019

    Total Charitable Giving Giving by Individuals Giving by Corporations Giving by Foundations
S&P 500 Same Year 0.8508 0.8460 0.8309 0.8337
  Following Year 0.8601 0.8531 0.8127 0.8345
GDP Same Year 0.9960 0.9940 0.9837 0.9777
  Following Year 0.9919 0.9890 0.9759 0.9775

Source: FactSet® Research Systems Inc., Giving USA 2020 Report

From 1990 to 2019, the annual growth rate of charitable giving was negative only three times (2008, 2009, and 2013). That means charitable giving levels, even in bad years, tended to remain, at a minimum, stable year over year. In the next section, we focus specifically on how an economic downturn or adverse scenario could affect charitable giving.

Fundraising Through Adverse Scenarios

Unfortunately, the stock market and the domestic economy do not always move in an upward trajectory. Shocks to the global economic system happen, whether by disruption in the supply chain, geopolitical issues, or global pandemic, shutting down a significant portion of economic activity. When these shocks appear, they tend to cause negative consequences for the stock market and overall economic activity. Looking back at two recent crises, the dot-com bubble burst (2000-02) and the Great Recession (2007-09), it is clear that shocks to the economic system have a profound effect on charitable giving

dot-com Bubble Burst, 2000-02

Technology stocks rose precipitously in the 1990s with the growth of the internet and the potential for e-commerce. Due to poor expense management practices along with a host of other internal and external factors, these technology stocks fell just as quickly, from a peak in March 2000 to a trough in October 2002. During this time, the GDP growth rate slowed and the S&P 500 experienced negative returns from 2000 through 2002 (Table 2). Meanwhile, charitable giving, which averaged an annual growth rate of 8.15% from 1990 to 2000, dropped to an annual average growth rate of 1.12% from 2000 to 2004. (The average reflects a simple arithmetic average of charitable giving growth using data provided in the Giving USA 2019 Report.) Even though the market reached a relative bottom in late 2002, it wasn’t until 2004 that charitable giving began to experience higher growth rates year over year. Data would suggest that fundraising growth could take two years or more to recover following a crisis.

Table 2: dot-com Bubble Burst and Charitable Giving Growth

  Charitable Giving Growth Rate Growth Rate of S&P 500 Price Return Index Growth Rate of US GDP
2000 13.03% -12.39% 2.98%
2001 1.06% -15.40% 0.38%
2002 0.27% -24.84% 1.73%
2003 2.03% 25.01% 2.45%
20004 9.61% 6.58% 3.81%

Source: FactSet® Research Systems Inc., Giving USA 2020 Report

The Great Recession, 2007-09

Starting around 2005-06, widespread issues in the housing market and weakness in financial systems helped contribute to one of the greatest global recessions ever recorded. By 2007-08, these issues came to a head, with individuals and companies around the world, particularly in North America, South America, and Europe, falling into financial distress and/or bankruptcy. As a result, GDP growth turned negative and the stock markets crashed in 2008. Table 3 shows that the charitable giving growth rate turned negative across 2008 and 2009. Following a similar path to the dot-com bubble bursting, it was roughly two years later, in 2010, that charitable giving started to rebound.

Table 3: Great Recession and Charitable Giving Growth

  Charitable Giving Growth Rate Growth Rate of S&P 500 Price Return Index Growth Rate of US GDP
2007 5.06% 1.07% 1.71%
2008 -3.68% -39.55% -1.95%
2009 -8.29% 21.24% -1.45%
2010 4.87% 12.04% 2.08%
2011 3.59% -2.23% 0.50%
2012 11.43% 11.29% 2.10%

Source: FactSet® Research Systems Inc., Giving USA 2020 Report


Evidence from prior crises shows that fundraising through a crisis can be extremely difficult. To use an analogy, to fundraise during adverse scenarios is like pedaling a bike twice as hard to go the normal distance. With that said, people and companies are generous and want to help their neighbors and communities. Fundraisers just need to find alternative methods, especially around going virtual, to make it easy for donors to find their organization and support its important work.

As pillars of their communities, nonprofits may be called upon to help manage crises and subsequent recoveries. Putting plans in place now to continue securing the funding necessary to address these crises is critical. Please reach out to your PNC advisor for more information on best practices for fundraising or visit to learn more.

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The Endowment & Foundation National Practice Group

The Endowment & Foundation National Practice Group builds on our long-standing commitment to philanthropy and is focused on endowments, private and public foundations, and nonprofit organizations. We seek to help these organizations address their distinct investment, distribution and capital preservation challenges.

For more information, contact Henri Cancio-Fitzgerald at

Accessible Version of Charts

Chart 1: US GDP versus Total Charitable Giving

Year Total Charitable Giving (in Billions $) GDP Inflation-adjusted to 2019 dollars
1990 100.2157379 11661.98575
1992 113.2515178 11874.66943
1994 122.1659153 12562.58413
1996 141.3379756 13152.80679
1998 179.6719201 14207.06658
2000 233.7078226 15213.49799
2002 236.821756 15536.0852
2004 264.8471563 16523.18173
2006 301.3086702 17511.29588
2008 304.8907112 17462.44987
2010 293.2389017 17568.2829
2012 338.4723456 18027.2319
2014 363.9028014 18912.5659
2016 403.5087775 19916.96205
2018 435.2485101 20855.21256
2019 449.64 21710.27628

Chart 2: S&P 500 Price Return Index versus Total Charitable Giving

Year Total Charitable Giving (in Billions $) S&P 500 Price Return Index Inflation Adjusted to 2019 Dollars
1990 100.2157379 630.5675948
1992 113.2515178 770.827925
1994 122.1659153 767.8540309
1996 141.3379756 1171.121217
1998 179.6719201 1854.791374
2000 233.7078226 1906.316843
2002 236.821756 1212.153102
2004 264.8471563 1615.037573
2006 301.3086702 1803.796452
2008 304.8907112 1102.027098
2010 293.2389017 1496.99701
2012 338.4723456 1628.894499
2014 363.9028014 2274.411003
2016 403.5087775 2369.846952
2018 435.2485101 2551.023766
2019 449.64 3288.269634