Millionaires Only, Please

Fewer Americans are giving money to charity. About 68 million households made donations in 1995, down 4 million or nearly 5 percent from 1993, finds a survey released by Independent Sector in Washington.

What's going wrong?

Charities have caused the problem themselves, some observers say, by focusing on the wealthiest potential donors when asking for donations, often passing over lower-income or middle-income households.

"If they are targeting more affluent households, they are losing other participants in society," says Virginia Hodgkinson, vice president of research at Independent Sector.

Solicitors are shrewd businessmen, says Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy. Brokers sell lists of potential contributors to charities, and charities sell lists to each other. Often, zip codes in posh neighborhoods are targeted.

Since many people don't give unless asked, many low or moderate-income income households don't give.

"If they ask, they still give. It's extraordinary," says Hodgkinson about people on all income levels.

The survey reported that only 60 percent of Americans were asked to contribute to non-profit organizations last year. That's down 17 percent from 1994.

But higher-income households aren't the only generous givers.

In 1995, households with incomes of less than $10,000 who donated money gave an average of 4.3 percent of their income. That's 1 percentage point more than higher-income households and 3 percentage points more than middle-class households.

The survey also reveals that when the underasked - young people and minorities - are actually asked to give, 78 percent respond.

Mr. Borochoff, however, stresses declining economic conditions as a reason why many lower-income households have stoped giving.

People are worried about layoffs and are financially insecure, he says. And solicitors know this.

"If you are lower-income and you know a lot of people personally that need help, you may give directly to the individual," Borochoff says.

If these people aren't approached, they are far less likely to even volunteer, says Hodgkinson.

People who volunteer, on any financial level, usually also donate a higher percentage of their income than do non-volunteers. And in times of recession, the volunteers do reduce giving as sharply as others do.

Hodgkinson says volunteering and giving are habits developed when you are young. So fewer contributors now may mean even fewer in the future.

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