Americans set record with gifts to charity
Americans gave nearly $300 billion to charitable causes last year, setting a record. Contributions from individuals made up three-quarters of the total.
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Americans gave nearly $300 billion to charitable causes last year, setting a record and besting the 2005 total that had been boosted by a surge in aid to victims of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma and the Asian tsunami.
Donors contributed an estimated $295.02 billion in 2006. That's up from $283.05 billion in 2005, according to an annual report released today by the Giving USA Foundation at Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy. When adjusted for inflation, the increase amounts to 1 percent.
"What people find especially interesting about this, and it's true year after year — that such a high percentage comes from individual donors," Giving USA Chairman Richard Jolly said.
Contributions from individuals made up 75.6 percent of the total. With bequests, that rises to 83.3 percent.
Nearly a third of the money — $96.82 billion — goes to religious organizations. The second-largest slice, $40.98 billion or 13.9 percent, goes to education, including gifts to colleges, universities and libraries.
About 65 percent of households with incomes less than $100,000 give to charity, the report showed.
"It tells you something about American culture that is unlike any other country," said Claire Gaudiani, a professor at New York University's Heyman Center for Philanthropy.
Gaudiani said the willingness of Americans to give cuts across income levels and that their investments go to developing ideas, inventions and people, to the benefit of the overall economy.
Gaudiani said Americans give twice as much as the next-most-charitable country, according to a November 2006 comparison by the Charities Aid Foundation.
In philanthropic giving as a percentage of gross domestic product, the United States ranked first at 1.7 percent. Britain was next at 0.73 percent, while France, with a 0.14 percent rate, trailed such countries as South Africa, Singapore, Turkey and Germany.
Meanwhile, companies and their foundations gave less in 2006, dropping 10.5 percent to $12.72 billion.
Jolly said corporate giving fell because companies had been so generous in response to the natural disasters in 2005 and because profits overall were less strong in 2006 than in the previous year.
Megagifts, which Giving USA considers to be donations of $1 billion or more, tend to get the most attention, and that was true last year especially.
Investment superstar Warren Buffett said in June 2006 that he would give $30 billion over 20 years to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Of that total, $1.9 billion was given in 2006, which helped push the year's total higher.
Gaudiani said that gift reflects a growing focus on using donated money efficiently and effectively.
"I think it's also a strategic commitment to upward mobility exported to other countries, in the form of improved health and stronger civil societies," she said.
The Gates Foundation has focused on reducing hunger and fighting disease in developing countries and improving education in the United States.
The Giving USA report counts money given to foundations, as well as grants the foundations make to nonprofits and other groups, since foundations typically give out only income earned without spending the original donations.
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.