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.
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.