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. US Charitable Giving Sets New Record Topping Katrina Effort

The record-setting gift total in 2006 included 1.9 billion dollars from billionaire Buffett, the world's third wealthiest individual, in the first installment on a 20-year pledge of more than 30 billion dollars to four foundations. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Rob Lever
Washington (AFP) June 25, 2007
US charitable giving hit a record 295.02 billion dollars in 2006 as Americans topped the philanthropic effort from major disasters a year earlier, a survey showed Monday. A report by Giving USA Foundation showed a third straight year of charity giving growth fueled in part by mega-gifts from billionaires life Warren Buffett, but also from mainstream Americans, who donated roughly two percent of their incomes to various causes.

"It is impressive that giving continued to rise in 2006, especially following the unprecedented levels of disaster giving in 2005," said Richard Jolly, chair of Giving USA Foundation, based at Indiana University.

The 2005 total was revised up to 283.05 billion dollars and included some 7.4 billion dollars in disaster relief contributions, following Hurricane Katrina in the United States and the major earthquake in Pakistan in 2005 and the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

The overall increase for the year was 4.2 percent, or one percent adjusted for inflation. But if disaster gifts are excluded from the 2005 total, giving in 2006 rose 6.6 percent.

The record-setting gift total in 2006 included 1.9 billion dollars from billionaire Buffett, the world's third wealthiest individual, in the first installment on a 20-year pledge of more than 30 billion dollars to four foundations.

"While headlines focus on 'mega-gifts,' they represented 1.3 percent of the total," said George Ruotolo, chair of the Giving Institute.

"About 65 percent of households with incomes lower than 100,000 dollars give to charity. That is higher than the percentage who vote or read a Sunday newspaper."

"There certainly is a tradition of supporting nonprofit organizations in the United States," Jolly told AFP.

"It's just characteristic of the American public to give to the extent that they're able contribute."

Some social observers say the US tradition of giving is rooted in religious belief but also to the hardships of early settlers distant from government.

The practice of the super-rich creating charitable foundations dates back to early 20th century with industrialists like Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller -- a tradition continued by Microsoft's Bill Gates, who persuaded Buffett to make his record grant to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Giving in 2006 was consistent with the historical relationships between the economy and charitable donations, the report showed.

"The stock market rose more than 10 percent adjusted for inflation in 2006," said Eugene Tempel, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

"Going back to 1990, giving rose, on average, about one-third as fast as the stock market did, so 2006 is right on target. Giving rose 3.2 percent, adjusted for inflation, when the disaster gifts of 2005 are deleted."

Giving by individuals was the largest single source of donations, according to the report, rising 4.4 percent to an estimated 222.89 billion dollars.

Charitable bequests were estimated at 22.91 billion dollars, a 2.1 percent drop from 2005. The bequests in 2006 were 7.8 percent of the estimated total.

Foundation grants rose 12.6 percent to 36.5 billion dollars. The report noted that foundations make grants based in part on the value of their assets, in many cases stocks, and the positive stock market helped this trend.

Donations by corporations and corporate foundations were estimated to be 12.72 billion dollars in 2006, down 7.6 percent. The report said this reflects the drop off from extraordinary gifts in 2005 for disaster relief.

The report said about one-third of the total donations went to religious organizations, about 97 billion dollars. Education grants represented the second largest sector, with 14 percent of the total or 41 billion dollars.

Other key areas included health, arts and culture, environment and animals and international affairs.

About 3.5 billion dollars in gifts was the estimated fair-market value of medical supplies and medicines donated to a dozen operating foundations created by pharmaceutical firms and medical products manufacturers.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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New Orleans Still At Risk Of Serious Flooding
New Orleans (AFP) June 21, 2007
New Orleans is still at risk of serious flooding two years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city, a government report has found. While the levees and floodwalls that collapsed under Katrina's storm surge have been repaired, authorities have not yet raised the height of levees that were overtopped by the floodwaters.

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