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Charitable giving is not yet back to pre-recession levels, though there are signs that things are starting to look up, if only a little. Charities would like 2012 to be the year of the turnaround. NPR's Pam Fessler reports on the challenges that stand in the way.
PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Ever since the recession, the talk among charities has pretty much been doom and gloom. But recently there's been a teeny bit less doom.
NANCY LEOPOLD: We're doing well.
FESSLER: Nancy Leopold is executive director of CollegeTracks, a small charity in Montgomery County, Maryland.
LEOPOLD: By that, I mean we're doing as well as we were at this time last year, or a little better. And that's despite having to make up for some foundation money.
FESSLER: Which isn't as plentiful as it used to be in the bad economy. So Leopold's group, which helps hundreds of low-income teens get into and stay in college, has turned its attention to wealthy individuals who still have money to give. With striking results. Their individual gifts have doubled over the past year.
LEOPOLD: I think the people who do give, in an economy like this, recognize that their dollars are needed even more.
Across the country, nonprofits are looking for new ways to get through tough times, whether it's refocusing their fundraising or changing the way they get their message across. One of the most promising results has been a greater use of the Internet and a surge in online giving.
KATYA ANDRESEN: Just as we're doing more shopping online, and we did this past holiday, we're doing more of our giving online.
FESSLER: Katya Andresen is with Network for Good, a site that allows donors to give to any charity. The group saw a 20 percent increase in online donations last year. And Andresen is optimistic about 2012. She says technology has opened up new ways for people to act on their natural inclination to give, such as the ability to text donations to charities via cell phones.
ANDRESEN: If you have a device in your hand next time you walk past a homeless person or you hear a news story and it makes you want to do something and you're on a website and there's an immediate way to act, I think that really opens the door to unlock that generosity and increase that charitable giving pie.
ROGER CONNOR: We think 2012 could be a slightly stronger year for giving at Catholic Charities.
FESSLER: Roger Connor, spokesman for Catholic Charities USA, says his group is encouraged in part by online giving, including an individual $9,500 gift they received in the final weeks of 2011. He says a major poverty summit later this year should also focus more attention on the charity's efforts to help the poor. Still, he says, any growth will likely be modest.
CONNOR: I don't think we're predicting more than, you know, anything from 1 to 3 percent.
FESSLER: And that's pretty much what many charities say. In a survey last month, the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that a slight majority of nonprofits were seeing an increase in end-of-year giving, some as high as 20 percent. But editor Stacy Palmer says most groups are not raising nearly as much as they did before the recession.
STACY PALMER: So it's going to be a tough year and some people think it's going to be a tough year for fundraising until 2016.
FESSLER: She says, even as the economy rebounds, it could take a couple of more years for charities to catch up. That increased donations often are not enough to cover other losses.
PALMER: Most groups get a lot of their money from state and federal governments and that's where they're seeing, very big cuts.
FESSLER: Which are expected to continue and even grow in 2012.
Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.
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