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Donations to charities soar across the board

WASHINGTON—Donations to a broad array of U.S. charities soared in the first quarter of 2005, putting to rest fears that donors would bankroll tsunami relief at the expense of other causes.

"People gave to the tsunami above and beyond what they normally give," said Jessica Harrington, the vice president for direct response at Schultz & Williams, a Philadelphia-based fundraising consultant. "They saw it as an additional gift rather than an instead-of gift."

Analysts of charitable giving attribute the surge to an improving economy, easier giving via the Internet—and plain generosity, which showed itself on two fronts. First, private U.S. donors bestowed $1.6 billion on relief after the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean disaster, a record for disaster aid. Second, they backed other charities in the first quarter of 2005 at a rate that will set a record for annual donations if it carries through the year.

International relief agencies got the biggest lift from donors, according to the first assessment of 2005 giving trends. But other sectors grew, too, including nonprofits that focus on health, the environment, animal welfare and advocacy. The findings are based on first-quarter data for 46 major charities including CARE USA, Doctors Without Borders USA, the American Heart Association, the ASPCA and The Wilderness Society.

Target Analysis Group, a management consulting firm for nonprofits in Cambridge, Mass., analyzed the donor numbers, which were provided on the condition that it not reveal figures for individual charities. In the clearest evidence of a tsunami effect, Target found that the median gift to international relief groups from January through March 2005 rose to $99 from $65 in the first quarter of 2004. For all 46 charities, the median donation rose to $36 from $34 a year ago. Their total donor revenues grew by a median of 9.9 percent.

Excluding the international aid groups, the median revenue growth was 7.3 percent. A median is the middle number in a series; in this case, revenue growth for the 20th of 39 charities that aren't involved in international relief.

The surge also reflects a lot more giving via the Web, said John Mastrobattista, the vice president for marketing at Target. "It gives a lot more immediacy," he said. "You reach audiences faster, and you can reach donors faster with a message that tells them what you're doing."

The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a twice-monthly trade journal, reported in its June 9 issue that nearly a quarter of tsunami aid came from Internet donations. In comparison, Internet giving accounted for about a tenth of donations in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"The Internet definitely helped tsunami giving," editor Stacy Palmer said. "It may make people more comfortable with online giving in the future."

Crises that draw heavy news coverage may motivate donors to one sector, said Patrick Rooney, the research director at Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy in Indianapolis. But economic factors matter more in the $250-billion-a-year big picture of charitable giving, Rooney said.

He suspects that income growth, improving corporate profits and a recovering stock market made Americans more generous to charities across the board. As evidence, he cited the record giving year of 2000—the last economic boom year—when donors contributed $252 billion in 2004 dollars.

The tsunami brought millions of new donors to the table, however, and accounted for a much bigger share of spontaneous—rather than pledged or programmed—giving, other analysts noted. Such donors—Doctors Without Borders alone reported 98,000 first-time givers—are the sources for future growth.

In the end, Mastrobattista said, "We'll never know what would have happened if there hadn't been a tsunami."


To read more about the Target Analysis Group study, go to


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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