NEW YORK – Americans gave to charities last year at about the same rate they did the previous year, holding steady on their donations in the face of a housing-market meltdown and a crisis in credit, a study released today showed.
But soaring gasoline and food prices have been added to the economic worries this year, which may lead to a drop in giving, nonprofit groups and fundraisers say.
Donations by Americans to charities remained at 2.2 percent of gross domestic product in 2007, according to the yearly study from the philanthropy-tracking Giving USA Foundation.
The study shows that charitable giving in 2007, measured as a percentage of GDP, matched giving levels in 2006 and from 2002 to 2004. Giving was boosted in 2005 by aid for victims of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma and the Asian tsunami.
After a strong start last year, stock market trouble combined with the housing and credit downturns put a drag on charitable contributions for the balance of the year.
“The year started out to be a good year, then the economy started to get really shaky in the fall, and that’s when a majority of people start to do their year-end giving,” said Edith Falk, chief executive of nonprofit consultant Campbell & Co.
The 2007 contribution total – including donations from individuals and corporations – was estimated to be $306.39 billion and had risen by an inflation-adjusted rise of 1 percent. The Giving USA report is researched and written by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.
Marcia Mintz, chief development officer of Valley of the Sun United Way in Phoenix, said she is starting the year “cautiously optimistic” about the fundraising environment.
To counteract potential drop-off in tough times, Mintz said the group asks wealthier donors to step up their contributions.
Jeffrey J. Bentley, executive director of the Kansas City Ballet, said he fears the current economic slowdown will affect all nonprofit fundraising this year.
“I think this perceived economic malaise is different because the issues are so much in everybody’s face,” he said.
“I can’t imagine that we are not going to be really hard-pressed to maintain any kind of forward movement,” he said. “It scares me. I wish it weren’t true.”