Robust economy = robust giving
Disasters heightened needs in 2005, but latest figures show that 'donor fatigue' did not occur.
After hurricane Katrina struck last August, many stranded residents were reluctant to leave their homes without their beloved pets. But the animals weren't included in evacuation plans. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) rushed to the rescue, transporting and sheltering more than 10,000 isolated and frightened animals, and opening a reunion center for pets and owners.Skip to next paragraph
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"We redirected 200 staff members and moved in thousands of volunteers," says Nick Braden, HSUS spokesman.
Those efforts struck a chord with Americans, who donated $34 million to support HSUS's action. That contributed to a whopping 68 percent boost in HSUS contributions for the year, from $79 million in 2004 to $133 million in 2005.
Their experience highlights an extraordinary philanthropic response in 2005 to several natural disasters. Yet the $7.4 billion Americans gave for disaster relief is only half of a $15 billion increase in charitable giving for the year.
According to Giving USA Foundation, which released its 2005 report Tuesday, disaster relief is but 3 percent of total giving – which grew to an estimated $260.3 billion. The report and other recent surveys paint a healthy picture for US nonprofits.
Overall, Americans gave 6 percent more last year than in 2004, with the greatest growth occurring in donations to human services, environment and animal welfare, and international affairs organizations. Close to 60 percent of US charitable groups reported growth – even before adding relief donations. That's the highest percentage in five years.
The humanitarian response to the tsunami, hurricanes, and earthquakes clearly did not give rise to "donor fatigue." As confirmation, a recent survey of 5,000 households by The Conference Board finds that 90 percent of those who gave for disaster relief said it was in addition to, not instead of, their regular charitable donations.
"The results show us that a robust economy results in robust giving," says Richard T. Jolly, chair of Giving USA. Not surprisingly, economic conditions influence philanthropy, with some subsectors being particularly vulnerable to variation. "Arts, culture, and humanities" was the only subsector to show a decline for the year (down 3.4 percent). Contributions to health organizations rose only 2.7 percent.
Human services – which had experienced funding declines for three years – registered a huge 32.3 percent jump, to $25.4 billion, including $3.3 billion in disaster relief. Gifts of $2.4 billion to the American Red Cross topped the list.
Aid for environment and animal welfare grew a strong 16.4 percent. With some of its largess, the Humane Society is working to reconstruct animal-care capacity in devastated areas, develop a better disaster-response team, and seek legislation to ensure that animals are included in future evacuation plans.
The Indian Ocean tsunami and Pakistan earthquake spurred remarkable growth of 19.4 percent in donations to international organizations; but the estimated $1.1 billion for disaster relief apparently "crowded out" some regular support. Apart from disaster-relief money, funding dropped by 1.9 percent for this sector. Giving for international purposes amounted to 2.5 percent of total US giving.
World Vision, an international Christian relief and development organization in 96 countries, saw a 14 percent rise in donations during 2005, buoyed by disaster relief and an ambitious campaign to help children affected by HIV/AIDS.
"Our industry is still largely dependent on institutional [rather than individual] donors," says Atul Tandon, World Vision's senior vice president for donor engagement. Yet humanitarian aid allows the public "to turn the question from 'Why do they hate us?' to 'How do we show them our love?' "
Religious groups far outpace other subsectors as donation recipients. Last year, Americans gave 35.8 percent of all contributions (or $93.2 billion) to houses of worship, ministries, missions, and denominational relief groups.