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Fueled by a surge in bequests, charitable giving in the U.S. grew 2.8 percent in 2003 to an estimated $240.72 billion, a new study says.

The increase, the largest since 2000, reflected the biggest jump in giving to health organizations since 1998 and to the arts, culture and humanities since 1996, says Giving USA 2004.

Total giving, which has represented 2 percent or more of gross domestic product since 1998 after more than 20 years below that rate, represented 2.2 percent of gross domestic product in 2003, just shy of the all-time high of 2.3 percent in 2000.

Following a trend of a flat or slowed rate of change for a few years after a recession, the study says, total giving since the 2001 recession has changed little.

Total giving in 2003 was down 1.2 percent from 2000, a year of unusually high giving, the study says, in part because individual donors carried over deductions for gifts made in earlier years.

Living individuals contributed nearly $3 of every $4 given in 2003, and religious organizations received more than $1 of every $3 given.

Giving by foundations, the only charitable source that gave less in 2003 than a year earlier, fell for the second straight year, while education was the only charitable field that received less in current dollars in 2003 than a year earlier.

Overall, giving grew from a revised estimate of $234.09 billion in 2002, says the study, an annual report on philanthropy researched and written by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and published by the Giving USA Foundation, a initiative of the Trust for Philanthropy of the American Association of Fundraising Council.

Adjusted for inflation, overall giving in 2003 grew 0.5 percent, compared to growth of 0.6 percent in 2002 and a decline of 2.2 percent in 2001.

Living individuals gave $179.36 billion, up 2.5 percent, or 0.2 percent adjusted for inflation, from the revised estimate of $175.04 billion in 2002.

Gifts from living individuals in 2003 accounted for 74.5 percent of total giving, and represented 1.9 percent of personal income.

Giving by bequest totaled $21.6 billion, up 12.8 percent, or 10.3 percent adjusted for inflation, from the revised estimate of $19.15 billion in 2002, and representing 9 percent of giving overall, up from 8.2 percent in 2002.

Despite concerns that the phase-out of the estate tax that began in 2001 might reduce bequests, the study says, they actually grew in value as household net worth increased an estimated 6.9 percent, or 4.3 percent adjusted for inflation, and because of the distribution of some large estates.

Gifts from living individuals and from bequests combined totaled $200.96 billion, or 83.5 percent of giving overall.

The study also says:

* Giving by foundations totaled $26.3 billion, down 2.5 percent, or 4.7 percent adjusted for inflation, according to the Foundation Center, and represented 10.9 percent of giving overall, level with 2002 and down from an all-time high of 11.9 percent in 2001.

* Giving by corporations and corporate foundations totaled $13.46 billion in cash and in-kind donations, up 4.2 percent, or 1.9 percent adjusted for inflation, from a revised estimate of $12.92 billion for 2002. That giving represented 5.6 percent of giving overall.

* Giving by corporate foundations fell $68.3 million, or 2 percent, according to a survey by The Foundation Center.

* Giving to religious organizations totaled $86.39 billion, up 4.3 percent, or 2 percent adjusted for inflation, and representing 35.9 percent of giving overall.

* Giving to educational institutions totaled $31.59 billion, down 0.8 percent, or 3 percent adjusted for inflation following a decline of 2 percent in 2002, and represented 13.1 percent of giving overall.

* Giving to foundations totaled $21.44 billion, or 8.9 percent of giving overall, compared to $19.16 billion the Foundation Center reported was contributed to foundations in 2002, down 25.4 percent, or 26.5 percent adjusted for inflation, from 2001.

* Giving to health organizations totaled $20.89 billion, up 10.7 percent, their biggest increase since 1998. Those gifts, up 8.2 percent adjusted for inflation, represented 8.7 percent of giving overall.

* Giving to human services totaled $18.89 billion, up 1.3 percent in current dollars and down 1 percent adjusted for inflation, compared to a decline of 11.3 percent in 2002. Giving to human services in 2003 represented 7.8 percent of giving overall.

* Giving to arts, culture and humanities organizations totaled $13.11 billion, up 7.3 percent, or 4.9 percent adjusted for inflation, the highest rate of growth since 1996. Those gifts represented 5.4 percent over giving overall.

* Giving to public-society benefit organizations totaled $12.13 billion, up 4.6 percent, or 2.3 percent adjusted for inflation after two years of declines. That giving represented 5 percent of giving overall.

* Giving to environmental and animal organizations totaled $6.95 billion, up 5.4 percent, or 3.1 percent, and represented 2.9 percent of giving overall.

* Giving to international affairs organizations totaled $5.3 billion, up 14.8 percent, or 12.1 percent adjusted for inflation, and represented 2.2 percent of giving overall.

* Deductions carried over for gifts made up to five years earlier, and other unallocated giving, such as gifts for which a donor can take a deduction but does not notify the beneficiary, or grants made by a foundation outside the U.S., totaled $24.03 billion, or 10 percent of giving overall. That total includes carry-over deductions as large gifts made in the late 1990s are claimed.

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