As the old year departs, it will become more clear just how strongly Americans still feel about philanthropy - the nation's historic support of private charity and relief organizations. Changes in tax laws, ironically, have made it more advantageous for many persons in upper income brackets to make contributions in 1981, rather than in 1982, when the maximum tax rate falls from 70 percent to 50 percent. There is evidence that contributions have in fact risen in recent weeks. What is important is for that sense of largess and consideration of the needs of others to continue into the new tax year.
The need for individual support of charities is more pressing than ever, what with budget cuts that will mean a reduction in billions of dollars of federal support for the 300,000 nonprofit groups operating within the US. Corporate and foundation contributions are expected to increase in 1982. Still uncertain, however, is the extent to which individual contributions - from private citizens - will be forthcoming.
Significantly, over 80 percent of the total money contributed comes from private individuals, rather than corporations or foundations. Of that percentage , the largest amount comes from persons of more affluent means. Since tax rates have been reduced sharply for this group it will be particularly important that they maintain their usual range of giving, just to stay even with inflation. It is also important that persons of more modest circumstances do what they can. The latter group should be helped by the fact that starting in 1982 taxpayers who use the ''short'' tax form will be able to deduct charitable contributions for the first time, a privilege long enjoyed by those taxpayers who use the ''long'' form.
Throughout its history, Americans have always shown an eager willingness to help out persons in less fortunate situations. That desire to nurture, clothe, and aid others - especially the desire to help others so that they will no longer have to be dependent on charity - will surely be as strongly expressed now as ever, no matter what the vagaries of the US tax code.