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Americans' generous reach

Prosperity and technology drive charity to new heights.

(Page 2 of 2)

For charities using the Internet, the results have in some cases been astonishing. The American Red Cross, for example, raised $2.2 million over the Web in its past fiscal year ending June 30, up from $172,000 in 1998. That's a 13-fold increase.

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Among other current developments:

* Two main charity-evaluation and information agencies, the National Charities Information Bureau and the Philanthropic Advisory Service of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, are merging their annual rankings of nonprofits.

The new evaluation service will be called the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, and will operate out of Arlington, Va., according to Bennett Weiner, an official of the Better Business Bureaus.

"The standards [of the two monitoring services] have been somewhat similar" says Mr. Weiner, so he does not see any drastic changes in terms of individual evaluations.

* Some organizations have moved up the charity roster in terms of receiving money. The Lutheran Services in America organization, for example, is now the top-listed charity in terms of dollar contributions, according to the NonProfit Times. (See chart, page 16.)

But officials for the St. Paul, Minn.-based Lutheran Services agency stress that the organization is largely collating information from local Lutheran-service organizations, rather than receiving dollars itself .

The Nature Conservancy, which often finds itself in controversy because of the difficulty of assessing its expenditures on services, meanwhile, has shot up into the Top 10 charities (see story, page 17). The National Audubon Society, meanwhile, fell from the list of the 100 largest charities ranked by the NonProfit Times.

* Stock market or investment-oriented trust accounts, such as charitable funds offered by Fidelity Investments, the Vanguard Group, and Charles Schwab, have now become powerhouses in their own right, with some listed among the largest philanthropic groups in the US.

Experts note that while more and more dollars flow into charities (either in the form of cash, stock, or land transactions), the actual level of contributions, in terms of national economic product, has remained fairly consistent over the years.

For 1999, the amount was 2.1 percent of US gross domestic product. That's not all that much different than the prior year.

A coming wave?

Still, some experts believe that level could rise in the years ahead. By one reckoning, more than $40 trillion is expected to be inherited by younger generations in the next half century.

A substantial portion of that amount, perhaps more than $6 trillion, could be rolled over to charities, according to an analysis by Boston College Profs. Paul Schervish and John Havens. The prediction is based on a US economic growth rate of 2 percent. If the economy grows faster, the amount of money flowing to charities could be even larger - perhaps up to $11 trillion, according to the study.

Yet this amount could be significantly lower if a new presidential administration changes or eliminates estate-tax laws. (see column, page 21).

The important point, though, is that there is still time, here and now, for each individual to contribute to a charity of his or her choice, says Ms. Kaplan of Giving USA.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society