Charitable Giving Nears Pre-Recession Levels, Annual Report Shows

After the recession, experts predicted it would take many years for charitable giving to get back to where it was before the economic downturn. But it now appears to be right around the corner.

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NPR's Business News starts with giving on the rise. Americans last year gave $335 billion to charity. That's according to a new report released today by the Giving USA Foundation. That is close to the levels of donation before the recession. NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: After the recession, experts predicted it would take many years - maybe even a decade - for charitable giving to get back to where it was before the economic downturn. But it now appears to be right around the corner.

GREGG CARLSON: We're pretty optimistic that we're going to be back at that record high, perhaps within the next year.

FESSLER: Gregg Carlson chairs the Giving USA Foundation. His group found that donations last year, adjusted for inflation, were 12.3 percent higher than in 2009, the year the recession ended. Carlson says most of the increased giving last year came from individuals.

CARLSON: Not much of a surprise. When we look at the indicators, whether it be the Standard and Poor or personal disposable income, all of those are arrowing up and are key indicators for giving.

FESSLER: Giving by foundations also grew, but corporate donations were down. Carlson thinks that's due to a lower rate of growth in corporate profits last year. While giving rose over all, the report found that some causes did better than others. Things were especially good last year for education, health, the arts and the environment. Julie Miller is head of development for the World Wildlife Fund.

JULIE MILLER: I think people are just feeling more confident and optimistic - particularly high-level donors which, obviously, is likely correlated to the rise in the stock market.

FESSLER: She says her group has seen a steady increase in donations since the recession, especially in gifts of $1,000 or more. Those grew 6 percent last year from individuals. And things are looking even better this year.

MILLER: Thus far in 2014, we're about 10 percent ahead of where we were last year.

FESSLER: Angela Geiger is chief strategy officer for the Alzheimer's Association. She says they had their best year ever last year, with revenues of more than $273 million.

ANGELA GEIGER: I think the improving economy helps but I really think that the reason the Alzheimer's Association has been benefiting is because so many more people care about the Alzheimer's disease issue.

FESSLER: Which charity experts say is important because people give what they can to the causes they care about most. Pam Fessler, NPR News.

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