Commentary: Increase in Charitable Donations Is Cause for Celebration

Article excerpt

Donations to America's biggest charities grew by 11.6 percent last year, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

This year has already been a strong fund-raising year for many groups. At the 79 charities that provided fund-raising totals for the 2005 fiscal year, contributions grew by a median 7.3 percent, meaning that half achieved bigger fund-raising gains and half did worse.

Although many people in philanthropy have been worrying about the effects of the spate of natural disasters around the world, few charities say they have seen a big slowdown in contributions because donors are giving to relief efforts.

Indeed, many of the nation's most-successful charities say they are now raising as much or more than they did in the late 1990s, when charities in the Philanthropy 400 reported double-digit percentage increases in giving due largely to the booming economy. As the stock market fares relatively well and real estate keeps rising in value, many affluent donors feel comfortable expanding their charitable gifts.

What's more, many fund-raisers are expecting a spurt in super- size donations over the next few months, as donors take advantage of a new law, enacted after Hurricane Katrina, that allows taxpayers to write off up to 100 percent of their income for charitable gifts made before Jan. 1. Even as giving recovers from several lackluster years, however, nonprofit officials say they still face daunting challenges.

The rising cost of fuel and postage is increasing charities' operating costs and squeezing the wallets of many people with low or moderate incomes - individuals whose small gifts add up to a lot of money for many charities.

In addition, charities face growing competition as more and more groups mount ambitious fund-raising campaigns, particularly as governments cut back financing for charities and a wide range of groups seek to help hurricane survivors get adjusted in new areas and rebuild their lives. …