Americans continue to give: Charitable donations surpass $300 billion mark

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Despite paying more at the pump and the grocery store, Americans dug deep into their pockets and donated a record $306 billion to charities in 2007, accounting for 2.1 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product.

A survey by the Giving USA Foundation and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University showed it is the first time charitable giving has surpassed the $300 billion mark. When inflation was taken into consideration, charitable giving by Americans increased one percent over the previous year, according to the survey, which was released Monday.

Giving from private foundations was up by 7 percent from last year. The combined assets of foundations in the United States blossomed from $550 billion in 2006 to $614 billion last year thanks to gains in stock market investments and a record $37 billion in new gifts, according to the Foundation Center, which researches philanthropic giving. The survey found that foundations are spending more of their assets than they did a decade ago and more than half of the foundations surveyed plan to increase giving this year.

Giving through personal bequests was also up 4 percent after adjusting for inflation. The overwhelming majority of the giving, about $229 billion, was from individuals. China View reported that more than half of that money came from households earning the top 10 percent of incomes in the country.

"But after years of steady growth, that figure remained stagnant last year, a sign that the softening economy may be pinching charitable contributions," The Washington Post reported.

Giving from corporations showed an inflation-adjusted decline of 1 percent from 2006 to 2007, coming in at $15.9 billion. This comes at a time when the need for charitable help is soaring nationwide. The Washington Post reported that requests for emergency assistance at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington have gone up 28 percent.

Giving USA found that religious congregations received the most money from donors, collecting $102 billion of all gifts. Next were nonprofit educational organizations, which raised a total of $43 billion. But international aid agencies, environmental groups, and human services charities reaped the largest increases in charitable gifts last year.

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