Despite Economic Dip, Giving Rose in 2007

By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 23, 2008

Americans donated $306 billion to charities in 2007, as U.S. philanthropic giving rose to a record level despite a downturn in the national economy, a survey being released today has found.

Charitable giving increased 1 percent last year, when inflation is taken into account, and surpassed $300 billion for the first time, according to the Giving USA survey.

But experts said that the growth may be short-lived, as many charities reported concerns that rising gas prices and turmoil in the housing and credit markets could hamper their fundraising this year.

In 2007, most of the donations, about $229 billion, came from individuals. But after years of steady growth, that figure remained stagnant last year, a sign that the softening economy may be pinching charitable contributions. Giving by corporations totaled $15.9 billion, an inflation-adjusted decline of 1 percent from the year before.

Meanwhile, giving from private foundations increased 7 percent and through personal bequests 4 percent, adjusted for inflation.

Del Martin, chairwoman of the Giving USA Foundation, which compiles the annual report, said the modest growth encouraged her. But she said many charities surveyed, particularly those with small endowments, were worried about this year's fundraising totals.

"Those nonprofits that have the most tenuous relationships with donors are the ones that have the greater concerns," she said.

In Washington, as in cities across the country, demand for services at charities is soaring amid the economic downturn. Requests for emergency assistance have increased 28 percent at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, said president and chief executive Edward J. Orzechowski.

Donations to Catholic Charities increased last year, he said, crediting a loyal corps of donors.

"When times are tough, people are willing to dig deeper," Orzechowski said. But, he added, "when the demand rises to the degree that it is, there's no way we can meet that demand, even with increased giving."

Any decrease next year in giving, no matter how modest, could severely hurt area nonprofit organizations, said Julie L. Rogers, president of the District-based Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation. She said many groups are "chronically undercapitalized anyway."

"They may be very well managed, but they live at the financial margins because most of them don't have much by way of financial reserves or working capital, and they are raising every dollar every year," Rogers said.

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