Being True to Charity

American charities can cheer a rebounding economy. That's because tough economic times have cut into charitable giving.

The authoritative Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that giving to the 400 largest charities fell in 2002 - the first decline in 12 years. The drop was only 1.2 percent, but even a small decline can be a blow to many nonprofits, which saw donations increase at a 12 percent average between 1997 and 2001.

The decline in giving was distributed unevenly. Charities in the arts and culture fields took a major hit with contributions plunging 26.5 percent. Those in healthcare saw a 22.7 percent fall. Even elite schools such as Harvard saw similar drops in giving.

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But donations for many pressing national and world problems were up. For example, giving related to Sept. 11 helped the American Red Cross post a 161 percent increase in contributions and displace the Salvation Army as the nation's largest charity.

Any charity needs to keep donors' trust. So it is a cause for concern that the Chronicle found salaries for top executives at large charities rising at a pace well above the inflation rate and at a faster clip than pay gains in private industry.

Doing good for others - not just for oneself - should help keep the spirit of charity alive and the donations flowing.

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