President Reagan, in his State of the Union address Monday, proudly hailed the 77 percent increase in the amount of money donated to charity that has occurred during his administration, attributing it to a "revolution of compassion."
Charitable giving, however, appears to be more evolution than revolution, with gifts increasing under Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.
The amount of donations went up about 52 percent in Carter's four years in office. Donations went up about 50 percent during Reagan's first four years, according to the Council for Aid to Education in New York. Depending on the source of the statistics, the amount given went up from 75 to 79 percent in Reagan's seven years, according to charitable groups.
Going back to 1955, "increases occurred in any group of years you take," said Nathan Weber, vice president for research for the American Association of Fundraising Councils.
In fact, according to a survey commissioned by Independent Sector, a Washington group, between 80 and 90 percent of Americans contribute to charity.
A total of $87 billion was contributed in 1986, the last year for which figures are available, roughly 90 percent, or $72 billion, of it by individuals, rather than corporations or foundations.
Nearly half of the contributions went to religious groups, 15 percent to education, 14 percent to health, 10 1/2 percent to human services, 7 percent to arts, culture and humanities, and the rest to miscellaneous causes.
Weber said that although there are exceptions, giving increases with education, salary, professional status and marriage. Men give more than women, but women volunteer more than men.
Americans, on the average, give 2 percent of their income to charity.
Officials responsible for the charitable drive in the federal government have expressed concern that although the total has grown, it has been given by a decreasing percentage of the work force. In 1966, 81.3 percent of federal workers contributed an average of $11.70. Last year, 60 percent of federal workers contributed an average of $67.75.