WASHINGTON (AFP) — Americans shook off economic uncertainty and gave a record 306.4 billion dollars to charitable causes in 2007, an increase of 3.9 percent for the year, a survey showed Monday.
The annual survey by Giving USA Foundation and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University showed a rise in overall donations but hesitation by individual donors and companies affected by economic woes.
George Ruotolo, chair of the Giving Institute, said charitable contributions held up even with Americans fretting about high oil prices, the subprime real estate crisis and the ongoing war in Iraq.
"People don't appear to be panicking, they feel that it's going to be OK in 2008," Ruotolo told AFP.
"I'm not bullish but I am satisfied. Even when you adjust for inflation giving still was on the plus side in 2007."
The overall total is up just one percent when adjusted for inflation. It also represents 2.1 percent of US gross domestic product.
Ruotolo said that there are few instances in recent years where giving declines in current dollars, although during some downturns there is a drop after adjustment for inflation. Based on that, he said, "history would tell us we're not in a recession."
Some categories of giving showed slow growth.
Individual giving, the mainstay of fundraising and charity, increased 2.7 percent -- a drop of 0.1 percent adjusted for inflation -- to an estimated 229 billion dollars, or some three-fourths of the total.
Corporate gifts, closely tied to corporate profits, rose 1.9 percent to 15.69 billion dollars -- a decline of 0.9 percent after adjusting for inflation.
The rise in giving was led by foundation grants, up 10.3 percent to 38.5 billion dollars. Charitable bequests were up 6.9 percent to 23.1 billion.
Despite the positive trend in 2007, there are concerns about the outlook for 2008, during which time economic conditions have worsened and many Americans are focused on the presidential campaign, gifts to which are not included in the overall charity total.
"Charities we surveyed have concerns about 2008 for the economy and the stock market and the impact they will have on giving, but not about the presidential election," said Del Martin, chair of Giving USA Foundation.
According to the survey, presidential campaigns raised 580 million dollars in 2007 -- less than one-quarter of one percent of the 306 billion raised for charitable purposes.
Measured by category of recipients, religious organizations received an estimated 102.3 billion dollars or 33.4 percent of the total. That was a 4.7 percent increase from 2006 levels.
Educational organizations got an estimated 43.3 billion dollars, or 14.1 percent of the total. This was up 6.4 percent from the prior year.
Gifts to human services charities rose 8.4 percent for the year to 29.64 billion dollars.
Health organizations saw a 5.4 percent rise to 23.15 billion dollars and donations to arts and culture groups rose 7.8 percent to 13.67 billion.
Strong growth was seen in contributions to international organizations that provide relief, economic aid, exchange, and other programs. Donations rose 16.1 percent to 13.22 billion dollars amid what study authors said was increased awareness, especially among people born after 1981, of global issues.
A big question looking ahead for philanthropy is to what degree individuals and companies will cut back due to real or anticipated economic troubles.
The American Red Cross said this month it was low on cash and struggling to provide aid to disaster victims following a string of weather-related calamities in the United States.
Martin said individual giving makes up 88 percent of all giving when counting bequest, family foundation and individual giving.
Up to now, she said "the 'little guys,' the families most affected by the economy, kept on giving despite any worries they might have had about their personal situations."
Ruotolo said that although giving may not keep up with all disasters, the various calamities do elicit a response from Americans.
"There is a silver lining when these things happen," he said. "We are a very generous people and we respond to the plight of our citizens and people around the world."
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