Better economic times, greater consumer confidence and the Christmas spirit are prompting Americans to dig deeper than ever this season for charitable giving.
The Salvation Army--the bellwether of Christmas charities--has been inviting citizens to fill its red kettles for more than 100 years. A sampling shows that donations are up as much as 30% this season over last, depending on the area.
Last Christmas, the kettles brought in $66.4 million, while a mail campaign raised $107.1 million.
As Jim Bradley, director of National Communications of the Salvation Army, points out: "The public has to be very much involved to come up with $66.4 million," because the money put in the kettles are coins or small bills.
Daniel Langan, director of Public Information for the National Charities Information Bureau, adds that many groups have gotten a good response to their year-end appeals by mentioning that some major charities will have to assume the welfare role the government has dominated until now.
Many donors, says Ann E. Kaplan--editor of Giving USA, the authoritative annual report published by the AAFRC Trust for Philanthropy--have been prompted by strong stock market earnings and the need to save on their income taxes. "Consumer confidence is up," she says. "This bodes well for end-of-year giving."
While charitable giving is up, fewer people are giving more.
Independent Sector, a group representing 800 nonprofit organizations, foundations and corporate-giving programs, tracks giving and volunteering in the United States. The latest survey, conducted by the Gallup Organization, shows that the average contributing household gave $1,017 in 1995, a nearly 10% increase after inflation over two years.
But just 68.5% of households reported giving to philanthropic groups the lowest number since the biennial surveys began in 1988.
"The trend reveals a growing income gap between affluent households, which are continuing to donate at increasingly higher rates, and households reporting lower incomes that are no longer able to give," Independent Sector said.
Of households with an annual income of at least $100,000, 88.6% gave--compared with 47.3% of households earning less than $10,000. College graduates gave at a rate of 82.3%, compared with 59.3% for those with a high school education or less. And the age group that gave the most was 45-54 at 78.5%, followed by those 65-74 at 73%.
As a percentage of gross domestic product, charitable giving in 1995 stood at 2%, surpassed only in 1964, 1968, 1969 and 1971, when the rate reached 2.1%. The lowest rate was 1.7%, recorded five times from 1977 to 1980 and again in 1985.
However, the Gallup survey showed that the public's distrust over the use of funds by charities is increasing. The percentage of respondents who did not think "honest and ethical" use was being made of donations rose from 20% to 31% between 1990 and 1996.
While November and December are traditionally the months of greatest giving, they're also when the greatest scams occur. The National Charities Information Bureau warns people to ignore claims that they have pledged a donation unless they are absolutely certain they did so, ignore dunning letters--respectable charities do not send them--and ignore callers who try to send someone to pick up a donation.
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Where the Money Goes
Religion: 44%, $63 billion
Education: 13%, $18 billion
Health: 9%, $13 billion
Human services: 8%, $12 billion
Environment: 3%, $4 billion
Others: 17%, $24 billion
Source: AAFRC Trust of Philanthropy
Note: Some figures do not ad up to 100% because of rounding.