After several years of anemic charitable contributions by Americans, the amount donated to educational institutions, religious groups, social service agencies and other nonprofit organizations rose 5 percent last year to $248.5 billion, according to a report released today.
The annual report by the Giving USA Foundation says that adjusted for inflation, charitable giving in the United States rose for the first time since 2000, when the booming stock market sent donations soaring.
"The economy is improving, and that shows up in the numbers," said Eugene R. Tempel, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy, which compiles the Giving USA report.
Churches, mosques, synagogues and other religious entities continued to receive the largest share -- more than $88 billion last year in estimated contributions, or one-third of all charitable contributions in the United States.
Educational institutions received the next-biggest slice -- $34 billion -- and nonprofit health groups such as hospitals received $22 billion, the report says.
There was growth in all categories last year except two: international charities and human services organizations.
Researchers said they were encouraged by the uptick after several years of donations failing to keep pace with inflation.
The growth was due primarily to healthy increases in donations from corporations and foundations, as well as increased bequests, Tempel said.
Donations by individuals, which account for the bulk of giving, rose 4 percent last year, the report says.
Individual giving has yet to return to the heights of the late 1990s, when the hot stock market was fueling philanthropy. In 1999, charitable giving as a percent of personal income reached 2.2 percent.
Last year, it was 1.9 percent.
Donations made to help the victims of the Dec. 24 tsunami accounted for less than a half- percent of the 2004 total, the report says.
Much of the tsunami-related money -- estimated at between $1.5 billion and $2.5 billion -- was donated this year. That total, however, will not materially boost the annual total because overall charitable giving in the United States is so large, Tempel said.