US Giving To Charity Rises - Slowly

A new survey commissioned by Independent Sector shows that giving and volunteering in America is slowly rising. In 1995, Americans gave $23.5 billion to the 400 largest charities in the United States. The average household contribution among "contributing households" was $1,017 - 16 percent higher than in 1993, when it was $880. This marks a 10 percent increase, over two years, after inflation.

The survey, conducted by the Gallup Organization, noted that although the level of giving is increasing, the total number of households that are giving is actually going down.

The finding reveals that some traditional donors are giving more while others are dropping out. Only 69 percent of households across the United States reported contributing to philanthropic groups - the lowest number since the report's inception in 1988.

According to officers at Independent Sector, the trend suggests a growing income gap between affluent households and households reporting lower incomes. The average contribution for all households increased 8 percent, which represents only a 2 percent real increase after inflation.

"The findings leave us cautiously optimistic about the future of giving and volunteering in our country," says Sara Melndez, president of Independent Sector. The national leadership forum is based in Washington and promotes philanthropy and citizen action that help people and communities.

"Social security, health insurance, retirement, and job security are all factors that will continue to tighten the lid on giving. These indicators had a significant impact on 74 percent of those surveyed, who stated they are still anxious about their economic future," she adds.

Other highlights of the survey include:

*Overall confidence in charities remains strong, but public "trust" in charities' use of funds is decreasing.

*Volunteer time was strongest in areas of religious, educational, youth development, human services, and health organizations.

*One of the key factors that motivates people to give is simply being asked. The "underasked," particularly minorities and young people, often 4have a high response rate.

*Charitable deduction is important to donors. Those who claim a charitable deduction on their income tax (27 percent) give a significantly higher percentage of household income than those who do not. The gap in giving between itemizers and nonitemizers has been growing.

*Forty-one percent of respondents reported membership in other organizations such as civic associations, service clubs, and alumni or professional groups. About 9 out of 10 reporting such memberships also reported household contributions, and 3 out of 4 volunteered.

*Involvement in organizations as youths also played a significant role in influencing adults' giving and volunteering habits.

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