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In modern usage, the practice of charity means the giving of help to those in need who are not related to the giver.


In the United States, in 2010 total giving to charitable organizations was estimated at $290.89 billion in 2010 (about 2% of GDP).

  • Most of the money came from individuals: $211.77 billion (73% of total giving).
  • 14% of donations came from foundations for a total of $41 billion.
  • Bequests accounted for 8% of donations or a total of $22.83 billion.
  • Giving by corporations amounted to just 5% of all giving in 2010 ($15.29 billion).

Where did all that money go?

  • 35% of all donations, or $100.63 billion, went to religious organizations. Most of this giving is to the donor’s house of worship.
  • At 14% ($41.67 billion) of giving in 2010, the next largest sector was education.
  • 9% of donations ($26.49 billion ) went to human services charities.
  • 8% went to health charities for a total of $22.83 billion.
  • 8% went to public benefit charities for a total of $24.24 billion.
  • 5% went to arts, culture, humanities charities which received a total of $13.28 billion.
  • 5% went to international charities for a total of $15.77 billion. International charities saw the biggest growth in giving (15.3%), in part, because of the earthquake in Haiti (January 2010). (See also foreign aid.)
  • 2% of donations went to environmental and animal charities.[1]

The Chronicle of Philanthropy announced following about the Top Donors in the US 2013 (in million U.S. dollars)

  • Leonard Lauder 1,000
  • Michael R. Bloomberg 350
  • A. Eugene Brockman Trust (A. Eugene Brockman) 250 [2]

Costs of private charity

On average, 70 cents of each dollar budgeted for government assistance goes not to the poor, but to the members of the welfare bureaucracy and others serving the poor.

In contrast, administrative and other operating costs in private charities absorb, on average, only one-third or less of each dollar donated, leaving the other two-thirds (or more) to be delivered to recipients.

Depending largely on voluntary contributions, most private agencies are under strong pressures to operate efficiently and keep costs low. Benevolent citizens naturally wish a large fraction of their donations to reach the needy, and many will not keep donating to an agency that does not accomplish that. Donors can select among private nonprofit charities, and competition between charities for donations tends to insure efficiency. Yet another factor promoting efficiency of private charities is that those operating at levels of inefficiency comparable to the average government agency are often prosecuted—by the government (which never applies the same standards or threat to its own agencies)—for fraud. Pressure on private charities to avoid such prosecution, and the bad publicity and loss of public trust resulting, is strong.

Many charities are are either run by or affiliated with religious organizations, where much of the labor is donated, further reducing overhead costs. Perhaps more important, an unmeasured but certainly very large fraction of private charitable aid is administered directly to recipients by kin without any institutional intermediation at all. This widespread private family charity (and similar gifts) is the only case in which dollar-for-dollar charitable income transfers can occur.[3]


  1. Sandra Miniutti. "Charitable Giving In 2010", Charity Navigator (see also the summary or executive summary pdf). June 20, 2011. Referenced 2012-03-29.
  2. "Top donors to charity in the United States as of 2013* (donations in million U.S. dollars)" Referenced 2012-10-21
  3. James Rolph Edwards. The Costs of Public Income Redistribution and Private Charity (pdf), Journal of Libertarian Studies, Volume 21, No. 2 (Summer 2007): 3–20. Referenced 2013-03-29.

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