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Philanthropy at risk

Friday, June 26
Posted 11 a.m. EDT

Philanthropy at risk

Charitable contributions just keep getting squeezed. According to Giving USA, a public outreach organization of the Giving USA Foundation, charitable giving in the U.S. exceeded $300 billion in 2008, but represented a decline of 2 percent in current dollars (5.7 percent after adjustment for inflation) over 2007.

More notably, it's the first decline in giving in more than 20 years, and only the second drop in 50 years.

Nancy L. Raybin, chair of the organization that created Giving USA Foundation, struggled to find a silver lining. "The fact that charitable giving was still more than 2 percent of GDP in 2008 is a bright spot in an otherwise negative climate for donations," she said in a press release.

It's not that people don't have noble intentions. It's just that in many cases, the pot of money pledged to charity has simply gotten smaller in the last two years.

An article in The Palm Beach Post says that the largest donation in the history of Florida Atlantic University, $16 million, is now uncertain. It seems that the benefactor, 81-year-old Barry Kaye, has fallen on tough times, as his business brokering life insurance settlements has dried up.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that the second largest foundation in the U.S., the Ford Foundation, is suffering a 30-percent loss in assets, and to avoid cutting into its grants, has offered to buy out a third of its employees.

Similarly, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is planning to buy out 40 percent of its employees.

But there is a bright spot, as Raybin notes, and that is that the wealthy are still giving. Two recent $100-million pledges were also reported in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

William P. Clements Jr., a former Texas governor, has promised $100 million to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, to be paid over the next four years.

And last month, J. Ronald Terwilliger, chairman of the Dallas Trammell Crow Residential real estate company, pledged the same amount to Habitat For Humanity.

Questions? Comments? E-mail

-- Posted: Jun. 26, 2009

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