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Charitable Giving Hits a Record High, Thanks to the Wealthy

Blessing in a Backpack

Beth Bush of Blessing in a Backpack hands out food items to students at Jackson Park Elementary School in Kannapolis, N.C. in this 2011 photo. A new report says Americans gave a record $335.17 billion last year to charitable causes, including education. TERRY RENNA / AP file

Americans are giving more to charitable causes than ever before, especially to arts, education and groups focused on health, a new report shows.

Total giving by individuals, companies and foundations hit a record $335.17 billion last year, driven mainly by wealthy individuals, according to the annual report from Giving USA Foundation and the Indiana University Lilly Family School, released Tuesday.

That was above the 2007 pre-crisis peak of $311 billion and above last year's previous record of $320 billion.Total giving rose $14.2 billion in 2013, marking a 4.4 percent increase in inflation-adjusted growth, the report said.

Giving by individuals represented the largest share and dollar growth of total giving. Individual giving rose 4.2 percent in 2013 to $230.91 billion. Giving by corporations fell by 1.9 percent to $18.22 billion. Giving by foundations increased 5.7 percent to $46.34 billion, while giving by bequest rose 8.7 percent to $25.5 billion.

One area that saw considerable growth was very large gifts from individuals, couples and estates of $80 million and more.

The causes supported by charitable givers have changed since the recession. While donors gave more to human services during the recession, they are now funding more arts, education and health groups.

Giving to education rises

Giving to education jumped 8.9 percent to $52.07 billion, while giving to "public-society benefit" groups, which includes disaster relief, increased 8.5 percent to $23.89 billion. Giving to arts groups rose 7.8 percent to $16.66 billion.

"While this has been a particularly slow recovery, many charities are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel."

Giving declined to religion, foundations and international affairs, although religion still has the biggest share of total giving, with 31 percent of total giving in 2013. Education ranked second with 16 percent, followed by human services at 12 percent.

"While this has been a particularly slow recovery, many charities are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel," said L. Gregg Carlson, president of Henderson, Nevada-based Carlson Fund Raising and chair of Giving USA Foundation. "Donors are increasingly more comfortable giving to the causes they care about and at a level in keeping with the impact they would like to make."

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The growth in giving, however, lagged the gains in the stock market last year and the advances made by top earners.

Charity vs. stocks

The S&P gained 30 percent in 2013 and many companies reported record profits. The incomes of the top 1 percent gained 31 percent between 2009 and 2012, according to income data from Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Household wealth in the U.S. also hit a record $80.7 trillion in 2013, up 44 percent from the 2009 trough, according to the Federal Reserve. Giving USA said charitable giving has grown 22 percent since the end of the recession in 2009. On an inflation-adjusted basis, the gains in giving from 2009 to 2013 were only 12.3 percent.

Carlson said the difference between gains in giving and in stocks last year — growth of 4 percent compared to 30 percent — casts doubt on the common assumption that the pace of giving is tied to the stock market. Giving, he said, also depends on GDP growth, personal income and consumption, which grew more slowly last year.

He said giving also lags stock-market gains, so the 2013 stock surge may show up in 2014 giving or later years.

"Make no mistake," he said. "The 2013 donations prove yet again that the call for support is answered generously by our citizenry."