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Americans' generous reach

Prosperity and technology drive charity to new heights.

By Guy Halverson Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 4, 2000



NEW YORK

Bolstered by a robust US economy and the newfound power of electronic banking and the Internet, Americans continue to open wallets and support hundreds of thousands of charitable institutions.

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All told, say experts, Americans are expected to give more than $200 billion to charities in the year 2000, up from $190 billion in 1999. And last year's giving was up almost 7 percent over 1998, the fifth consecutive year of increases in inflation-adjusted dollars.

The increase in giving "goes along with the economy," says Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP). When the economy is strong, giving is strong, he says. Moreover, money is now flowing into charitable coffers at an accelerated rate as individuals attempt to take significant write-offs before the year-end tax deadline.

For countless charities, the calendar is crucial. Some 40 percent of all charitable giving comes at the end of the year, between November and December. That means that thousands of individuals are now focusing on what they can contribute - and which charities to support, says Ann Kaplan, editor of Giving USA in Indianapolis.

Individuals contribute roughly 75 percent of all charitable donations in the US, according to analysis by the American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel Trust for Philanthropy. Much of the remainder is from large foundations.

Electronic transfers

Giving this year is coming in a variety of inventive ways, often involving electronic transfers from banks and other financial institutions, or donations offered via the Internet.

Case-in-point: More than 18,500 families now make church offerings through an electronic-funds-transfer program initiated by the Lutheran Brotherhood, a fraternal benefit society based in Minneapolis.

Lutheran families "like the program because it helps ensure that they meet their monthly tithing to local congregations," says David Rustad, a spokesman for the Lutheran Brotherhood. And pastors and church boards like the program because it helps even out fund flows in down months, especially during the summer, when many church members are on vacation, he says.

Still, traditional fundraising methods continue to be important. One jolly, red-cheeked bell ringer, who collects cash for the Salvation Army on West 42nd Street in New York, says individuals "are as open-hearted as ever" in throwing spare change into the collection pot. While he talks, a radio cassette at his feet plays familiar Christmas music.

Meantime, not far away, on West 31st Street, Rosemary Gallo is making an annual contribution to the St. Francis of Assisi bread line, one of the oldest charitable food services in the Eastern US. This year, she says, she is adding "an additional amount of money," reflecting a pay increase at her job.

Still, while traditional methods of giving flourish, the winds of change are in the air for the philanthropic field:

One major development: The Internet is becoming a significant force. (See story on page 17.)

While the amount of money donated via the Net is only about 1 percent of total giving, a year or so ago it was virtually unrecordable, note experts such as Mr. Borochoff.

Moreover, the average contribution over the Internet is larger than in traditional mail-oriented giving. Whether this reflects the lure of the Web - or the fact that Internet users tend to have greater financial means than nonusers - is still unclear.