Americans dig deep to give more to charities

Though still far below 2007 levels, charitable giving in the US rose 2.1 percent in 2010.

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Liz Clarke, of Tustin, Calif., is riding with Team Life Changers in the Race Across America from June 18 to June 27 with the hopes of raising $200,000 for charities including Calvary Church in Santa Ana, Calif., the O.C. Rescue Mission, and Birth Choice Health Clinic. Donations to charities rose modestly in 2010, a new report finds.

Americans continued to strongly support charitable work with their dollars last year, despite the lingering recession, a new report says. The biggest area of growth in charitable giving was in aiding international causes, such as the earthquake relief efforts in Haiti.

Total US charitable giving rose 3.8 percent in 2010 (2.1 percent adjusted for inflation), estimates "Giving USA 2011: The annual report on philanthropy for the year 2010," produced by the Giving USA Foundation and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

The groups estimate that total US charitable giving in 2010 was $291 billion, compared with an estimated $280 billion in 2009. The organizations said they had lowered their previous 2009 estimates after reviewing their methodology.

US charitable giving peaked at $326.57 billion in 2007, a total that would not be reached again for several years if current growth rates continue.

Considering the shock of the recession, "[T]his is a remarkable testament to the core values of Americans, especially when you look at stuff like housing values,” Patrick Rooney, executive director of Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy, told the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

"The environment for philanthropy has been admittedly challenging over the past few years, but one message has come through loud and clear: Charitable giving remains a central part of the American fabric," says a foreword to the report. "Even through a period of economic stress and volatility, Americans have continued to give."

Americans give about 2 percent of their disposable income to charitable causes, the report says, a figure that has stayed stable over many years.

Among the report's other highlights:

  • Giving to international affairs causes rose an estimated 15.3 percent in 2010 (13.5 percent adjusted for inflation), perhaps due in part to the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
  • Giving to religious organizations rose only slightly, gaining 0.8 percent (a decline of 0.8 percent adjusted for inflation).
  • Giving to education rose 5.2 percent in 2010 (3.5 percent adjusted for inflation).
  • Giving to arts, culture, and humanities causes rose about 5.7 percent (4.1 percent adjusted for inflation). The arts received the largest single pledge of a gift in 2010: artworks and furniture donated to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. valued at $250 million.
  • Despite the high-profile BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, giving to environmental and animal organizations dropped an estimated 0.7 percent (a decline of 2.3 percent adjusted for inflation).
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