Charitable giving sets a
three-year upward trend
___By Constance Casey
___Religion News Service
___WASHINGTON (RNS)--The point is pretty obvious: When Americans have more money, they give more money to charity. An impressive $175 billion last year.
___Giving by individuals, encouraged by the buoyant economy, is up 10 percent, and it's up for the third consecutive year, according to "Giving USA 1999," an annual report on American charitable practices released May 25.
___The beneficiaries are the nation's million or so non-profit groups--including churches, soup kitchens, youth groups, disaster relief organizations, museums and universities.
___As in every past year, the biggest slice of the pie--43 percent, or $76 billion--went to religious organizations. Contributions to churches, synagogues, mosques and religious charities rose by only 5 percent, but that was 5 percent of a very large amount. What looks like a modest increase amounts to more than $3 billion in new contributions.
___Behind religion in dollars received come, in order, education, health, human services, arts, public benefit, environment and international affairs.
___Though they each have a much smaller slice than religion, three categories of non-profit groups saw much bigger increases.
___Human services organizations, environmental groups and the catch-all category of public benefit, which includes organizations like the United Way, all saw increases of 25 percent or better. The only losers were arts groups, whose gifts shrank from $10.62 billion to $10.53 billion.
___Nancy Raybin, chair of the American Association of Fund-raising Counsel Trust for Philanthropy, which does the research for the annual giving report, sees the glass as more than half full, but believes it could be much more full.
___What interests her, she said shortly after releasing the report at a press conference in New York, is the potential for individual giving.
___"It amazes me that as many times as we talk about individual giving, which is 75 percent of the total pie, many people still find this a new idea," Raybin said. "They persist in thinking it's foundations and corporations that give the most money. No, it's individual people."
___Foundation grants account for a bit less than 10 percent of all U.S. charitable giving. The amount given out by them in grants jumped by 20 percent last year. Foundations are required by law to give out a minimum of 5 percent of their assets, and many of them saw those assets grow by more than 20 percent.
___"The same stock market that fuels foundation giving has also increased the assets of individuals," Raybin observed. "People don't just give out of income, they give out of accumulated wealth. It's required for foundations to give a minimum of 5 percent. Five percent isn't a floor, or a ceiling, for individuals."
___Raybin interprets the 27 percent jump in giving to human services organizations as increased public awareness of community-based organizations like a local youth center or a neighborhood feeding program.
___The category of environmental groups, which saw a 28 percent increase, includes zoos and animal shelters as well as big, well-known groups like the Nature Conservancy.
___If any category could be called a loser in this flush year, it's arts groups. Giving to such groups fell by about 2 percent, adjusted for inflation.
___Looking to the future, albeit a little morbidly, Raybin pointed to one more hopeful trend. Giving by bequest--that is, remembering the Salvation Army or the American Cancer Society or whatever in your will--continues to increase, rising by about 7 percent in 1998 to $24 billion.
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