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Charitable giving in U.S. for ‘06 nearly $300 billion

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The extent of American generosity was shown yesterday when a report from the Giving USA Foundation estimated that charitable donations approached $300 billion for 2006.

The foundation, based at Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy, showed Americans contributing about $295.02 billion.

That figure marks a 4.2 percent increase, a 1 percent increase when adjusted for inflation, from the record $283.05 billion Americans gave in 2005, an impressive result considering the 2005 total included a surge in giving in response to four major natural disasters: Hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita, and the tsunami in Asia.

Richard T. Jolly, chairman of the Giving USA Foundation, said 2006 represents how generous Americans are, because the number showed a more standard giving year. The 2006 total was not a result of residual natural-disaster donations from 2005, he said, adding that he thought 2005 "indicated that people dug a little deeper."

One of the reasons Mr. Jolly gave for the increase was a good market year. This year, as in most cases, donations mimicked the economy by increasing by about one-third of the stock market rise. Mr. Jolly suggested this pattern is created by people who give a certain percentage of their income to charitable organizations.

According to the report, individuals were, as usual, the biggest contributors, giving $222.89 billion or 75.6 percent of the overall $295 billion donated in 2006. By comparison, 4.3 percent came from corporations, 12.4 percent from foundations and 7.8 percent from bequests.

Donations from corporations and bequests dropped some — to $12.72 billion (a 2.1 percent decline) and $22.91 billion (a 7.6 percent decline), respectively. Fundations donated $36.5 billion in 2006, up 12.6 percent.

The drop in corporate giving, according to the report, "reflects the extraordinary gifts in 2005 for disaster relief as well as a slowdown in the rate of growth for non-disaster-related corporate giving."

Even with the drops in donations from bequests and companies in 2006, the final total surpassed 2005's with the help of what the Giving USA report calls "mega-gifts," such as last year's $1.9 billion donation from tycoon Warren Buffett.

Mr. Buffett, who according to Forbes magazine has a net worth of more than $52 billion, announced last year that he will donate $30 billion over the course of 20 years to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as to several other foundations. The Gates Foundation, which according to their Web site was created to "help reduce inequities in the United States and around the world," received the first installment last year.

Mr. Jolly said that because of Mr. Buffett's donation, "we will need to see how this will impact philanthropy." Mr. Jolly reported that they tracked $3.9 billion last year in mega-gifts, or 1.3 percent of the total.

The estimates used in Giving USA are based on surveys, studies and tax data on organizations.

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