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U.S. giving nears $300 billion

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By Ret Boney

Fueled by donations from individuals, charitable giving in the U.S. climbed to a record $295.02 billion in 2006, a new report says.

That’s up 4.2 percent from $283 billion in 2005, or 1 percent after adjusting for inflation, says Giving USA 2007, the annual assessment of giving released by Giving USA Foundation and compiled by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

“The fact that this is the largest amount we’ve reported is indicative of positive developments,” says Richard T. Jolly, chair of the Giving USA Foundation. “It’s especially important to look at it when we take disaster giving in 2005 out because that was an unusual year.”

The 2006 increase follows a year that saw an unprecedented outpouring of generosity in response to natural disasters that include the Gulf Coast hurricanes, the South Asia tsunami and the earthquake in East Asia.

Without those “extraordinary” donations, giving would have jumped an estimated 6.6 percent last year, or 3.2 percent after inflation, the report says.

“If anything, what we are reporting, when taking into account disaster giving in 2005, is a strong affirmation of the health of American philanthropy,” says Jolly.

As in years past, individuals did the heavy lifting, giving slightly more than three of every four dollars for a total of $222.89 billion.

While that includes billionaire Warren Buffet’s first installment of $1.9 billion on a $30 billion pledge to four foundations, regular folks gave as well, with donations coming from almost two in three households earning less than $100,000 a year.

And after adding in the $22.91 billion left to charity through wills and estates, individual giving jumps to $245.8 billion, or 83.3 percent of total giving.

Private, independent and operating foundations gave $36.5 billion last year, up 12.6 percent, or 9.1 after inflation, driven in large part by a stock market that surged more than 10 percent after inflation in 2006.

The corporate sector, however, decreased its giving last year, a development the report attributes to “extraordinary gifts” awarded in response to the 2005 natural disasters, coupled with slower growth in corporate profits.

Corporations and their affiliated foundations gave a total of $12.7 billion in 2006, a drop of 7.6 percent from 2005, or down 10.5 percent after inflation.

If disaster-related donations from 2005 were excluded, 2006 corporate giving would have risen 1.5 percent, which translates to a drop of 1.7 percent after adjusting for inflation.

Religious congregations garnered almost one in three dollars donated, for a total of $96.82 billion, and represented the largest share of overall giving.

But arts, culture and humanities groups enjoyed the high growth rate, receiving $12.51 billion, a jump of 9.9 percent over 2005, to account for 4.2 percent of all giving.

Education-related organizations received 13.9 percent of all gifts, or $40.98 billion, the report says, while groups working on behalf of animals and the environment received $6.6 billion, or 2.2 percent of giving.

Another $29.5 billion, or 10 percent of donations, went to foundations in 2006, with much of that in the form of gifts to patient-assistance foundations and community foundations.

Groups formed for public-society benefit received $21.41 billion, or 7.3 percent of overall giving, and health organizations received 6.9 percent of giving, or $20.22 billion.

Donations to two sub-sectors decreased in 2006.

Giving to human services groups fell to $29.56 billion last year, a drop of 9.2 percent, or 12 percent after inflation, due in part to the billions those organizations received in disaster-related giving in 2005.

Donations to international affairs were down the same amount to $11.34 billion.

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