Americans shook off economic uncertainty and gave a record US$306.4 billion to charitable causes last year, an increase of 3.9 percent for the year, a survey showed yesterday.
The annual survey by Giving USA Foundation and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University showed a rise in overall donations but hesitation by individual donors and companies affected by economic woes.
George Ruotolo, chair of the Giving Institute, said charitable contributions held up even with Americans fretting about high oil prices, the subprime real estate crisis and the ongoing war in Iraq.
“People don’t appear to be panicking, they feel that it’s going to be OK in 2008,” Ruotolo said.
“I’m not bullish but I am satisfied. Even when you adjust for inflation giving still was on the plus side in 2007,” he said.
The overall total is up just 1 percent when adjusted for inflation. It also represents 2.1 percent of US gross domestic product.
Ruotolo said that there were few instances in recent years where giving declines in current dollars, although during some downturns there was a drop after adjustment for inflation.
Based on that, he said: “History would tell us we’re not in a recession.”
Some categories of giving showed slow growth.
Individual giving, the mainstay of fundraising and charity, increased 2.7 percent — a drop of 0.1 percent adjusted for inflation — to an estimated US$229 billion, or some three-fourths of the total.
Corporate gifts, closely tied to corporate profits, rose 1.9 percent to US$15.69 billion, a decline of 0.9 percent after adjusting for inflation.
The rise in giving was led by foundation grants, up 10.3 percent to US$38.5 billion. Charitable bequests were up 6.9 percent to US$23.1 billion.
Despite the positive trend last year, there are concerns about the outlook for this year, during which time economic conditions have worsened and many Americans are focused on the presidential campaign, gifts to which are not included in the overall charity total.
“Charities we surveyed have concerns about 2008 for the economy and the stock market and the impact they will have on giving, but not about the presidential election,” said Del Martin, chair of Giving USA Foundation.
According to the survey, presidential campaigns raised US$580 million last year — less than one-quarter of 1 percent of the US$306 billion raised for charitable purposes.
Measured by category of recipients, religious organizations received an estimated US$102.3 billion or 33.4 percent of the total. That was a 4.7 percent increase from 2006 levels.
Educational organizations got an estimated US$43.3 billion, or 14.1 percent of the total. This was up 6.4 percent from the prior year.
Gifts to human services charities rose 8.4 percent for the year to US$29.64 billion.
Health organizations saw a 5.4 percent rise to US$23.15 billion and donations to arts and culture groups rose 7.8 percent to US$13.67 billion.
Strong growth was seen in contributions to international organizations that provide relief, economic aid, exchange, and other programs. Donations rose 16.1 percent to US$13.22 billion amid what study authors said was increased awareness, especially among people born after 1981, of global issues.
A big question looking ahead for philanthropy is to what degree individuals and companies will cut back because of real or anticipated economic troubles.
The American Red Cross said this month it was low on cash and struggling to provide aid to disaster victims following a string of weather-related calamities in the US.
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