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Americans’ giving continues to rise

But report notes social services, churches take hit

– Wealthy donors are lavishing money on their favored charities, including universities, hospitals and arts institutions, while giving is flat to social service and church groups more dependent on financially squeezed middle-class donors, according to the latest comprehensive report on how Americans give away their money.

The Giving USA report, being released today, said Americans gave an estimated $335.17 billion to charity in 2013, up 3 percent from 2012 after adjustment for inflation.

Reflecting the nation’s widening wealth gap, some sectors fared far better than others. Adjusted for inflation, giving was up 7.4 percent for education, 6.3 percent for the arts and humanities, and 4.5 percent for health organizations, while giving to religious groups declined by 1.6 percent and giving to social service groups rose by only 0.7 percent.

Experts with the Giving USA Foundation and its research partner, the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, said it was the fourth straight year of increased giving and predicted that within two more years the total could match the pre-recession peak of $347.5 million.

During and immediately after the recession, some wealthy donors shifted their giving to social service groups working to combat hunger and homelessness, according to Patrick Rooney, associate dean of the school of philanthropy.

Now, many of those donors – including some making multimillion-dollar gifts – are refocusing their attention on higher education, the arts and other sectors long patronized by the affluent, he said.

The trend is readily apparent in the listings of recent major charitable gifts compiled by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which provides news coverage of the nonprofit world.

Among the 100 largest recent gifts, which range from $7.5 million to $275 million, the recipients overwhelmingly are universities and hospitals, along with a few arts institutions. Only four of the gifts are to social service organizations and one to a religious group.

Almost all the U.S. income gains from 2009 to 2012 flowed to the top 1 percent of earners, according to tax data analyzed by economist Emmanuel Saez at the University of California, Berkeley. By contrast, median household income was $51,017 in 2012, $4,600 below its peak in 2007, the Census Bureau said.

As usual, religious organizations received more donations than any other sector in 2013, with $105.5 billion in gifts. Giving USA said that was the lowest portion of total giving – 31 percent – for church groups in four decades.

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