Charitable giving by Americans rebounded slightly in 2010 after two years of sharp declines resulting from the recession, according to an annual survey being released today.
Total contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations were estimated at $290.9 billion, up from $280.3 billion in 2009, the Giving USA Foundation reported. That represented growth of 3.8 percent in current dollars and 2.1 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars.
"That's good news following a combined drop of over 13 percent in 2008 and 2009," said Patrick Rooney, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, which conducted research for the report.
"But the sobering reality is that many nonprofits are still hurting. If giving continues to grow at that rate, it will take five to six more years just to return to the level of giving we saw before the Great Recession."
The report included recalculated estimates for 2008 and 2009, based on the latest data from the IRS. Edith Falk, chairwoman of the Giving USA Foundation, said the new figures showed that the drop in contributions for those two years was the largest in four decades.
Giving by individuals -- which accounted for 73 percent of all gifts -- increased only slightly in 2010, according to the report. But corporate giving rose by 10.6 percent, and charitable bequests were up by 18.8 percent, a phenomenon that New York tax lawyer Andrew Grumet attributed to more focus by nonprofits on their donors' estate planning.
Churches and religious organizations received the largest share of the donations -- 35 percent. The amount, $100.6 billion, was virtually the same as in 2009.
Gifts to education rose by 5.2 percent, and gifts to arts, culture and humanities groups rose by about 5.7 percent, while gifts to foundations, human service charities and the health sector changed only slightly from 2009. Gifts for international relief and development groups rose by 15.3 percent, due in part to generous giving for relief efforts related to the earthquake in Haiti.
Falk said Americans, on average, gave about 2 percent of disposable personal income to charitable causes -- a level that has been consistent over several decades.
"Today, they may have to dig deeper as their income and wealth have declined, but they have shown they are willing to do that," she said. "They may give to fewer organizations or they may temporarily decrease their overall giving -- but they still give."
Some giving patterns seem to have changed, according to Falk, who suggested that individual donors and corporations were increasingly concentrating their giving on the causes most important to them. She also said that many foundations have been reluctant to take on new programs or fund new organizations during the recent economic turmoil.
Thomas Mesaros of the Giving Institute, a consultant to many nonprofits, said charities should be grateful that Americans remain generous even in economic hard times, and he advised them to be creative in rousing donor enthusiasm.
"It's a truism that people who are engaged in volunteer pursuits tend to donate to the causes they participate in," he said. "How do we encourage more volunteerism?"