YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Donations to top 400 charities appear down this year, report says

Donations to top charities may fall 1% this year, the Chronicle of Philanthropy says. The economy and budget battle are cited.

October 21, 2013|By Ronald D. White
  • An exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art this year. The museum's capital campaign raised $181 million in donations last year, representing a 410% increase over 2011.
An exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art this year. The museum's… (Matthew Millman )

Donations to the 400 charities in the U.S. that raise the most money are slowing in 2013 after climbing 4% the year before, according to a report released Monday by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The slowdown in post-recession philanthropy comes despite a sharp rise in giving by wealthy Americans who have more than doubled the number of gifts of $1 million or more this year, the Chronicle said.

But middle-class Americans and those with fewer assets are holding back out of unease about the economy, including the chilling effect of political gridlock in Washington.

The Chronicle said 88 charitable groups that provided estimates of giving this year led it to project that overall donations would decrease by about 1% this year from the $81.7 billion in private donations to the top 400 charities in 2012. About half of the largest 400 charities are raising more than in 2007, when the recession started.

"People are still very uncertain about the economy and worry that it might go back into recession," said Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle.

"Things like the federal shutdown and all of this wrangling in Washington over the debt ceiling aren't helping," Palmer said. "Those kinds of things don't help people feel charitable or feel like giving as much as they gave in the past."

The biggest improvement in 2012 was enjoyed by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, No. 122 on the list of 400. Its capital campaign raised $181 million last year, representing a 410% increase over 2011.

"In these times, it's very unusual to be able to do that well," Palmer said.

Other findings included the growing significance of "donor-advised funds," such as Boston-based Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, which have allowed rich philanthropists to "park" money and receive an immediate tax benefit even though the funds may not be given to a particular charity until weeks or months later.

Donations to Fidelity Charitable soared 89.1% in 2012 to nearly $3.3 billion, bringing it within range of the nation's favorite charity, United Way Worldwide, which raised $3.9 billion last year.

But even those parked donations may have been influenced by the federal budget battle, Palmer said.

"One of the reasons groups that raised that kind of money did really well at the end of last year was because Congress was talking about taking away the charitable giving tax deduction," Palmer said.

"All of that 'fiscal cliff' stuff was going on and people felt nervous," Palmer said. "They probably thought, 'I'll put the money in, enough to tide me over for the next three years, but I'll get my deduction now and just give it away over time.'"

Twitter: @RonDWhite

Los Angeles Times Articles