Charitable Giving Drops as Crisis Takes a Toll

Article excerpt

Byline: Ruthie Ackerman

Charitable contributions by Americans dropped in 2009 for the first time since 1987 as the financial crisis cut into giving.

According to a study by Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy and the Giving USA Foundation released last month, Americans of all stripes, while continuing to give, are contributing at lower numbers. Giving in the U.S. dropped 3.6% last year, to $303.75 billion.

Eileen Heisman, the chief executive of National Philanthropic Trust, said disaster philanthropy, which encourages Americans to text their donations to causes such as Haiti's earthquake relief effort, helped spur some giving.

"People certainly gave to 9/11 and that was well before you could text," Heisman said in a recent telephone interview. "But the definition of instantaneous has changed - instantaneously used to be writing a check, then it was picking up the phone to donate via online banking, now it's texting. It's really accelerated how much people can respond.

"The act of taking a checkbook out is ancient history. Now you don't even have to turn on your computer."

The real challenge for charities, she said, is that most causes arenot in your face like a disaster. Text campaigns, Heismansaid, arenot really feasible for hospitals or universities or more traditional forms of annual giving.

"For disaster giving texting is a quick viral marketing tool that allows lots of gifts in very small amounts, but it's never going to be the backbone of giving," she said.

Individual giving remained flat in inflation-adjusted dollars, according to the study.

"Even in a time of enormous economic upheaval, such as we saw in 2009, Americans continued to be generous to charitable causes," Giving USA Foundation'schairman Edith H. …