Donations to charities in 2004 and 2005

Donations to America's biggest charities grew by 11.6 percent last year, according to The Chronicle of Philantrophy's 15th annual survey of the 400 charities that raise the most money in the United States.

And 2005 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 -- the December tsunamis, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and this month's earthquake in India and Pakistan -- few large charities say they have seen a big slowdown in contributions because donors are giving to relief efforts.

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 January 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.

[From article by Holly Hall, Leah Kerkman, and Cassie J. Moore, Chronicle of Philanthropy]

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