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Americans Donated a Record $373B to Charity Last Year

Charitable giving in the U.S. hit a record $373.3 billion in 2015, with individuals contributing more than two-thirds of that amount.

According to Giving USA's annual philanthropy report, released Tuesday, donations from individuals, estates, foundations and companies rose 4.1 percent last year, or 4 percent when adjusted for inflation.

Though that's down from the 6.1 percent inflation-adjusted growth reported in 2014, the continued climb shows that despite weaker stock markets and slower wealth creation, philanthropic giving — especially by individuals — continues to grow.

The report was published The Giving Institute's Giving USA Foundation. It was written and researched by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

"It's heartening that people really do want to make a difference, and they're supporting the causes that matter to them," said W. Keith Curtis, chairman of the Giving USA Foundation and president of The Curtis Group, which consults with nonprofits. "Americans are embracing philanthropy at a higher level than ever before."

Individuals accounted for $264.6 billion, or more than two-thirds of total giving in the U.S. last year, according to the report. Mega-gifts, or those totaling $100 million or more, equaled at least $3.3 billion in 2015, based on publicly announced contributions, the report said. Yet smaller gifts totaling $10 or $20 helped drive the 3.8 percent increase in total giving by individuals, or 3.7 percent when adjusted for inflation.

"Philanthropy is quite democratic and always has been," said Patrick M. Rooney, associate dean for academic affairs and research at the Lilly school. "More people give than vote in the U.S."

Giving by foundations increased 6.5 percent, or 6.3 percent when adjusted for inflation, to $58.5 billion last year. Meanwhile, charitable bequests increased 2.1 percent, or 1.9 percent when accounting for inflation, to $31.8 billion. Corporate giving increased 3.9 percent, or an inflation-adjusted 3.8 percent, to $18.5 billion.

When it comes to causes, religion remains far and away the largest, with giving to them reaching $119.3 billion. It was followed by education at $57.5 billion, and human services at $45.2 billion.

The only sector that saw a decline in 2015 was giving to foundations, which dropped 3.8 percent in current dollars, or 4 percent when adjusting for inflation, to $42.3 billion.