Charitable contributions in U.S. up 4.4%, but have yet to reach pre-recession levels

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Charitable contributions in the U.S. grew 4.4 percent in 2013 but still haven’t rebounded to peak levels achieved before the economic recession, said a report issued Tuesday.

Giving by individuals, corporations, foundations and bequests last year totaled $335.17 billion, according to the annual report compiled by the Giving USA Foundation and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

In 2007, just before the global economy collapsed, contributions totaled $349.5 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars, the Giving USA report said.

While expressing optimism that giving could match or surpass the amounts generated prior to the recession in the next one or two years, Patrick Rooney, associate dean at the Lilly School, said lingering concerns about jobs and the stock market are among the factors that could stifle gains.

“The instability of some areas of the economy — such as unemployment and corporate profits, as well as the volatility of the S&P 500 — could weaken overall gains in giving in the future,” he said.

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Of the total contributions generated last year, the largest amount, 72 percent, came from individuals who donated $240.6 billion to charities, up 4 percent from 2012.

While giving by foundations and through bequests also rose last year, corporate giving fell by nearly 2 percent to $17.9 billion. Giving USA attributed that decline to sluggish growth in pre-tax corporate profits in 2013.

Susan Cooney, who runs Las Vegas-based Givelocity, an online site that pools donors’ gifts according to social causes they support, said the decline in corporate giving was alarming.

“Employees today are looking at and evaluating their employers by the contributions they make,” she said.

In the Pittsburgh area, corporate giving has become definitely more challenging, said Kim Tillotson Fleming, chair of the most recent fundraising drive for the United Way of Allegheny County. That campaign generated nearly $34 million overall.

Though corporate donations to the United Way campaign rose by 4.1 percent, many companies agreed to limit their gifts to past levels instead of increasing them, she said. “We saw some pretty flat numbers.”

Some corporations also have experienced significant cutbacks, which in turn impacted contributions to United Way, she said. For example, H.J. Heinz Co., the global food business that went private in 2013, has pared hundreds of jobs from its local headquarters operation. “Corporations like that have had changes in leadership and don’t have as strong a corporate presence here,” said Ms. Fleming.

Among the specific categories tracked by Giving USA in which contributions rose last year were education, up 8.9 percent; health organizations, up 6 percent; environmental and animal groups, up 7.5 percent; and arts, culture and humanities, up 7.8 percent.

Giving to foundations plummeted by 15.5 percent, while giving to religious groups declined less than 1 percent, Giving USA said.

Joyce Gannon: or 412-263-1580.

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