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Americans broke charitable giving record in 2015

Donations to charities averaged more than $1 billion a day


Americans broke charitable giving record in 2015

Americans gave more to charity in 2015 than any year on record, including an increase from individual donors and contributions to faith-based groups, according to a new report.

Last year, U.S charities took in $373.25 billion in contributions, averaging more than $1 billion per day. Giving USA’s annual report, written and researched by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, shows increases in charitable bequests, gifts from foundations and corporations, and individual donations. And more persons gave to religious charities than any other category in 2015.

“It’s heartening that people really do want to make a difference, and they’re supporting the causes that matter to them,” said W. Keith Curtis, chairman of the Giving USA Foundation. “Americans are embracing philanthropy at a higher level than ever before.”

Patrick M. Rooney, associate dean for academic affairs and research at the Lilly school, noted more Americans give to charity than vote on election day.

Individuals gave $264.58 billion to charity last year, with many gifts as small as $10 or $20. Donations from individuals accounted for more than 80 percent of total contributions in 2015.

But some say charity is about more than just numbers and Americans should look at the reasons they give and what organizations actually do with their money.

Linda McCarty, president of Faith In Practice, a Texas-based Christian medical mission serving the poor in Guatemala, told me charitable giving can sometimes lead to isolationism, especially for Christians.

“You can fall into this trap of ‘I will only support you if you think like I do,’” McCarty said.

She told me it can be dangerous when individuals only give to become more connected with a particular religious group or denomination, instead of following Christ’s example to serve the needs of others.

Faith In Practice has more than 1,300 U.S. volunteers and more than 900 from Guatemala, which McCarty said is even more valuable than money.

Giving USA defined religion narrowly in its report, only including donations to churches, missions work, religious media, and other related organizations in its statistics. Groups such as The Salvation Army, which considers itself part of the Christian church, fell within Giving USA’s human services category.

Last year, Americans gave more than $45 billion to human service projects and more than $57 billion to educational initiatives.

By the report’s definition, this is the fifth year in a row religious charities saw an increase in giving. In 2015, increases in online contributions helped organizations raise $119 billion.

Cam Watson, World Vision’s vice president for development, told me online giving and new technology has changed the game for charitable giving.

During the earthquake in Nepal last year, Americans saw images and posts on social media, which rapidly raised awareness of the tragedy. Watson said by sending out one email, World Vision was able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for disaster relief in Nepal.

“Years ago, fundraising was done over the phone or knocking on people’s doors,” he said. “Now you can easily make a donation using your smartphone or tablet without ever getting off the couch.”

Donations to World Vision started to pour in again when the image of Aylan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian boy who drowned and washed up on a Turkish beach, went viral on Facebook and Twitter. One image made the plight of Syrian migrants risking their lives to flee war and deprivation a reality to millions of Americans, Watson said.

But with an increase in online contributions comes an influx of more organizations asking for donations.

McCarty said many persons choose to give because of a friend’s request or because they recognize the name of the organization, but it’s important to research groups and motivations behind gifts: “We need people to write checks, but we also don’t want to be driven by chasing money.”

Evan Wilt Evan is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD reporter.


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