- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 20, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Helped by an improving economy, charitable giving in the United States last year rose by the highest rate in three years, said a national survey released today.

The Giving USA annual report said donations by individuals, estates, foundations and corporations totaled $240.7 billion in 2003. Researched by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, the survey showed a 2.8 percent increase over 2002, when giving amounted to $234.1 billion.

Adjusted for inflation, donations rose 0.5 percent in 2003, hovering at about the same rate of growth of 0.6 percent in 2002.

But the estimated contributions amounted to 2.2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, falling just short of the nation’s all-time charitable giving high of 2.3 percent of GDP in 2000.

“Charitable giving above 2 percent of gross domestic product is one demonstration of our nation’s renewed commitment to the good works done by charities and congregations,” said Henry Goldstein, chairman of the Giving USA Foundation.

Mr. Goldstein attributed last year’s increase to a higher household net income, a stronger stock market and improved corporate profits.

Of the 1,369 organizations that responded to the Giving USA survey, 55 percent reported an increase in donations, 8 percent reported stable levels of giving and 37 reported a decline in 2003. A year earlier, about half the organizations reported increases and the other half reported decreases.

Although donations from individuals, estates and corporations increased, gifts from foundations dipped. Individual contributions, which comprised 74.5 percent of total giving, rose 2.5 percent to $179.4 billion, up from about $175 billion in 2002.

Charities had been worried that tax reforms, included phasing out the estate tax, might hurt donations, but gifts by bequest showed the greatest increase in 2003.

With support from higher household net worth, estate giving rose 12.8 percent to $21.6 billion, from $19.5 billion in 2002.

Of the 10 charitable categories documented by Giving USA, religious organizations received the most contributions, with an estimated $86.4 billion, or 35.9 percent of the total.

Educational organizations and foundations were the only groups to experience declines in giving from 2002 to 2003.

Diane Aviv, president and chief executive officer of Independent Sector, a coalition of nonprofit organizations, said giving typically doesn’t pick up until two years after a recession. She said she was pleased to see donations rising more quickly.

But because private giving makes up only 20 percent of public charities’ revenues, she said, other revenue sources, including government funding, are a concern.

“The individual giving being up is good news; it doesn’t mean it changes the overall picture for charities, because of where the other sources of funding are,” Miss Aviv said.

Although rising debt at both the state and federal level probably will not affect charitable organizations in the next couple of years, it could be a significant problem in the long run, she said.

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