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American generosity blooms

By Judy Martel · Bankrate.com
Monday, July 1, 2013
Posted: 6 am ET

Americans continued to demonstrate their generosity last year, donating more than $300 billion to charity. Total giving in 2012 by individuals, foundations, corporations and bequests increased 3.5 percent (before inflation) from 2011, according to the Giving USA 2013 Report on Philanthropy.

There were several interesting facts in the report about how people gave.

Donating to disaster relief

In the last two months of 2012, $223 million was given to relief organizations for Superstorm Sandy.

Before the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001, and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated parts of Indonesia, disaster giving didn't even exist as a separate category in the report, says Eileen Heisman, president and CEO of National Philanthropic Trust.

"Now, expertise is being created specifically for disaster giving," Heisman says. Tragedies -- both manmade and natural -- seem to occur every six months, she says, adding that the use of technology allows people on the scene to send images to the world instantly, so donors can respond quickly.

Restoring the arts

One of the categories with the largest growth -- 7.8 percent from 2011 to 2012 -- is arts and culture. Total giving was $14.44 billion, a sign that the economy is recovering, Heisman says. "During the peak of the recession, people shifted their giving (away from arts and culture, to other categories) or gave less. As the economy recovered, people restored their giving to arts and culture."

Balancing religion with other causes

Giving to religious organizations, on the other hand, was basically flat in 2012, at $101.54 billion. Heisman sees a couple of reasons for this. "Religion is not the center of people's lives anymore, or the center of the community as it once was," she says. Also, giving to religious organizations is moderated by other interests and choices that reach beyond our own communities. "We have so much more to give to; it's not just in our backyard anymore," she adds.

Predicting future growth in giving

Heisman believes that environmental causes, one of the categories with the most growth in 2012, will continue to see significant growth going forward. From 2011 to 2012, donations to this category rose by 6.8 percent, to $8.30 billion.

The World War II generation, often called "the greatest generation," was interested in "creating a sense of community with their donations by building brick and mortar institutions," says Heisman. Then along came the baby boomers, who wanted to save the whales and the trees. They essentially began the grassroots funding model that has become mainstream, she adds.

The up-and-coming generations are taking it to the next level with an interest in global sustainability of the environment. "Now there are two generations really passionate about making the world a better place and ensuring that it's around for future generations," Heisman says, so she expects funding in that category to outpace growth in some of the others.

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