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ECONOMIC SCENE: No quick recovery for charitable giving

The Great Recession has hurt charitable giving — and may keep on doing so for some time

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Salvation Army bell ringers in Herald Square in New York outside of Macy's on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, Nov. 27. The Great Recession has curtailed charitable giving and may well do so into the future.

Frances M. Roberts/Newscom

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Americans generally pride themselves on their generosity. And they should.

But the “great recession” has crimped their giving. In 2008, charitable donations amounted to $307.65 billion, down 2 percent from 2007, according to GivingUSA Foundation. Charity could take a bigger hit this year – despite a rising need for help because of the slump.

For example, donations to the nation’s largest nonprofits, including prominent universities, hospitals, and foundations, are expected to fall 9 percent this year, according to a survey by The Chronicle of Philanthropy last month. That’s the steepest drop the publication has reported in 17 years of surveying the 400 largest charities in the United States.

Similarly, giving to foundations is likely to decline more than 10 percent, the Foundation Center in New York noted earlier this month. Many of the nearly 600 foundations surveyed have cut staffs to weather the recession.

One of the few exceptions was religion. Some 37 percent of 1,540 congregations reported an increase in donations in the first half of 2009 compared with the same period in 2008. Another 34 percent reported fundraising to be flat, according to a survey by the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving at Indiana University, Indianapolis.

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