NATION Survey reports rise in charitable giving

Religious organizations received the biggest share of charitable donations.
Helped by an improving economy, charitable giving in the United States last year rose by the highest rate in three years, according to a national survey released Monday.
The Giving USA annual report said donations by individuals, estates, foundations and corporations totaled $240.7 billion in 2003. Researched by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, the survey showed a 2.8 percent increase over 2002, when giving amounted to $234.1 billion.
Adjusted for inflation, donations rose only 0.5 percent in 2003, hovering at about the same rate of growth of 0.6 percent in 2002.
But the estimated contributions amounted to 2.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, falling just short of the nation's all-time charitable giving high of 2.3 percent of GDP in 2000.
"Charitable giving above 2 percent of gross domestic product is one demonstration of our nation's renewed commitment to the good works done by charities and congregations," Henry Goldstein, chairman of the Giving USA Foundation, said in a statement.
Goldstein attributed last year's increase to a higher household net income, a stronger stock market and improved corporate profits.
Number of groups reporting
Of the 1,369 organizations that responded to the Giving USA survey, 55 percent reported an increase in donations, while 8 percent reported stable levels of giving and 37 reported a decline in 2003. A year earlier, about half the organizations reported increases and the other half reported decreases.
While donations from individuals, estates, and corporations increased, gifts from foundations fell slightly. Individual contributions, which comprised 74.5 percent of total giving, rose 2.5 percent to $179.4 billion, up from just over $175 billion in 2002.
Charities had been worried that recent tax reforms, included phasing out the estate tax, might hurt donations, but gifts by bequest showed the greatest increase in 2003. With support from higher household net worth, estate giving rose 12.8 percent to $21.6 billion, from $19.5 billion in 2002.
Of the 10 charitable categories documented by Giving USA, religious organizations received the most contributions, with an estimated $86.4 billion, or 35.9 percent of the total.
Educational organizations and foundations were the only groups to experience declines in giving from 2002 to 2003.
Because private giving comprises only 20 percent of public charities' revenues, other revenue sources, including government funding, are a concern, said Diana Aviv, president and chief executive of Independent Sector, a coalition of nonprofit organizations.
While rising debt at both the state and federal level will probably not affect charitable organizations in the next couple of years, it could be a significant problem in the long run, she said.

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