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Robust economy = robust giving

Disasters heightened needs in 2005, but latest figures show that 'donor fatigue' did not occur.

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After hurricane Katrina struck last August, many stranded residents were reluctant to leave their homes without their beloved pets. But the animals weren't included in evacuation plans. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) rushed to the rescue, transporting and sheltering more than 10,000 isolated and frightened animals, and opening a reunion center for pets and owners.

"We redirected 200 staff members and moved in thousands of volunteers," says Nick Braden, HSUS spokesman.

Those efforts struck a chord with Americans, who donated $34 million to support HSUS's action. That contributed to a whopping 68 percent boost in HSUS contributions for the year, from $79 million in 2004 to $133 million in 2005.

Their experience highlights an extraordinary philanthropic response in 2005 to several natural disasters. Yet the $7.4 billion Americans gave for disaster relief is only half of a $15 billion increase in charitable giving for the year.

According to Giving USA Foundation, which released its 2005 report Tuesday, disaster relief is but 3 percent of total giving – which grew to an estimated $260.3 billion. The report and other recent surveys paint a healthy picture for US nonprofits.

Overall, Americans gave 6 percent more last year than in 2004, with the greatest growth occurring in donations to human services, environment and animal welfare, and international affairs organizations. Close to 60 percent of US charitable groups reported growth – even before adding relief donations. That's the highest percentage in five years.

The humanitarian response to the tsunami, hurricanes, and earthquakes clearly did not give rise to "donor fatigue." As confirmation, a recent survey of 5,000 households by The Conference Board finds that 90 percent of those who gave for disaster relief said it was in addition to, not instead of, their regular charitable donations.

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