Contributions to the nation's biggest charities rose slightly last year after falling in 2002, the first decline in a decade, according to an annual survey by a publication that tracks nonprofit groups.
The study, to be released today by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, found that donations to the 400 largest nonprofit organization increased by 2.3 percent in 2003, to more than $47 billion. In the previous year, donations fell 1.2 percent, in part because of troubled economic times.
An improving economy helped lift donations last year, editor Stacy Palmer said. But contributions have yet to match levels from the 1990s, when the survey found double-digit percentage increases for the top charities.
Palmer also credited a shift in fund-raising strategies. She said many groups are focused on securing very large donations, rather than $10 to $15 contributions.
"Nonprofits are making a lot of efforts to become more effective in the way that they raise money," she said. "I think that is starting to pay off."
Reclaiming the No. 1 spot on the Chronicle's list was the Salvation Army, with $1.3 billion in donations. It was followed by the American Cancer Society, which raised $794 million, and Gifts In Kind International with $787 million in contributions.
The American Red Cross, No. 1 on last year's list because of a surge in contributions that continued after the Sept. 11, 2002, attacks, was to No. 8 this year.
The rankings cover private donations and non-government contributions.
Gifts to the top 400 charities accounted for nearly one-fifth of the $241 billion given to all of the nation's 850,000 charities last year. Most of the donations come from individuals; the rest are from foundations and private companies.