- - Monday, October 10, 2016

Americans are a passionately charitable people, donating a record $373 billion in 2015, with most of that coming from individual donors, according to a new report.

Some $265 billion, or 71 percent of the 2015 charitable donations, was given by individuals, Giving USA, the Giving Institute and Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy said in their publication, “Giving USA 2016: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2015.”

Other donor groups in 2015 included foundations, which gave $58 billion; bequests, which gave almost $32 billion; and corporations, which gave $18 billion.

The 2015 numbers reflect a full post-recession rebound in giving: While donations dipped in 2008, giving has steadily climbed and reached record highs in 2014 and 2015, whether measured in current or inflation-adjusted dollars, said the Giving USA report, released in June.

These findings “embody more than numbers — they are a symbol of the American spirit,” said W. Keith Curtis, chairman of the Giving USA Foundation and president of The Curtis Group, a nonprofit consulting firm in Virginia Beach, VA.

Moreover, while large donations can get headlines, the small gifts add up to massive sums. “Philanthropy is quite democratic and always has been — more people give than vote in the U.S. — and $20, $10 and $1 gifts do make a cumulative difference,” said Dr. Patrick M. Rooney, associate dean for academic affairs and research at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

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The religious sector remains the largest recipient (32 percent) of charitable gifts. This is followed by the educational sector (15 percent); human services (12 percent); health (8 percent); arts, culture and humanities (5 percent); international affairs (4 percent); and environmental and animals (3 percent). Other sectors include gifts to foundations (11 percent), public-society benefit (7 percent) and individuals (2 percent), according to Giving USA 2016.

The “giving season” remains between October and December, the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS) has found.

A 2012 study of high-net-worth donors (defined as households with incomes greater than $200,000 and net worth over $1 million) found that almost 43 percent gave more during the end-of-year holidays than the rest of the year, the NCCS said, citing the Indiana University school and Bank of America.

Charities agree that the last three months of the year are the best times for giving: A 2012 GuideStar Survey said that more than 50 percent of the organizations it surveyed reported received the majority of their contributions in October and December.

Charities also enjoy a good reputation as stewards of gifts.

A recent bipartisan survey of 1,300 voters by Independent Sector asked, “Which do you think would be a better way to improve your community and your country? Pay an additional $1,000 in taxes to the federal government or given an additional $1,000 to charity?”

Seventy-four percent chose “Give to charity,” while 9 percent said “Give to government,” and 17 percent said they didn’t know, “both,” “neither,” or refused to answer, according to Independent Sector’s “United For Charity” report.

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