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How have the wealthy given back?

By Judy Martel · Bankrate.com
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Posted: 10 am ET

It's the time of year for giving thanks, so how charitable have the wealthy been this past year?

Bill and Melinda Gates continue to make headlines on the philanthropic front, most recently with the announcement that they've pledged $500 million through their foundation to help create new banking systems for the poorest parts of the world, allowing families earning less than $2 a day to begin saving money via mobile banking.

The global focus of the Gates Foundation is in keeping with an uptick in international charitable giving among wealthy individuals in 2009, according to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch study of high-net-worth philanthropy. Although average gift amounts decreased among wealthy households by 35 percent from 2007, a few sectors showed an increase, including international giving (as in the earthquake in Haiti), the arts and environment/animal care.

In partnership with the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, the study randomly surveyed more than 20,000 households in wealthy neighborhoods. The results reflect the opinions of 800 respondents with household income greater than $200,000 and/or net worth of at least $1 million, excluding principal residence. Average wealth for the respondents was $10.7 million.

Most wealthy households (98 percent) donate to charity, with 66 percent of them supporting the same cause or organization year after year. The majority (83 percent) say they sometimes or usually donate to disaster relief, such as the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, and of those, 92 percent do so in addition to their regular charitable giving.

Finally, celebrities are finding a way to be strategic in their charitable giving in a way that you'd expect them to -- they're seeking out specialists. An article in the L.A. Times points out that more stars, and younger ones, are turning to philanthropy consultants to help them decide the best way to donate (and maybe gain some valuable publicity in the process).

Some celebrities say it's the best use of their time to obtain the expertise of advisers. For others, it's an opportunity, as the L.A. Times puts it, to "reflect a particular desire to be associated with the sort of serious activism that has transformed brethren like Angelina Jolie and Bono from mere entertainers to global power players."

In the end, it's the thought and the deed that counts, whatever the road taken to get there.

Has your charitable giving suffered during the economy of the past few years, and what are your plans for 2011?

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