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Charity giving far off  pre-recession levels

Rotarian Jorge Aufranc visits Misioneros del Camino an orphanage Sumpango Guatemalproject his club Rotary Club GuatemalSur. With help from The

Rotarian Jorge Aufranc visits Misioneros del Camino, an orphanage in Sumpango, Guatemala, and a project of his club, the Rotary Club of Guatemala Sur. With help from The Rotary Foundation and the Rotary Club of Northbrook, Illinois, USA, the orphanage now has a new well, dormitories, and a neurological clinic for disabled children, allowing them to undergo on-site rehabilitation. Members of the Guatemala Sur club visit the children and the local Rotary Community Corps, which helps apply the club's resources to the needs of the nearby community.

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Updated: November 26, 2011 3:50PM

Charitable giving is trickling back up as the economy heals, but it could take years to return to pre-recession levels, nonprofit leaders say.

Giving totaled $291 billion in 2010, according to the 2011 annual report by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. That’s up 3.8 percent from 2009 and follows two years of declines.

Charity Navigator, a Glen Rock, N.J., organization that evaluates nonprofits, says 57 percent of donors expect to give at the same level they did last year and are most interested in supporting human service charities such as food banks and homeless shelters this holiday season.

However, donations are still 6 percent below the 2007 record, and even if the recuperation continues at its current rate, it will take U.S. charities six years to return to their financial level in 2007, Patrick Rooney, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy, warns. “We are not out of the recession, and we are not recovered from the recession,” he says.

The Center on Philanthropy report says Americans contribute 2 percent of their disposable income, a figure that has remained constant for decades.

People have a lot to choose from: There are more than 1.5 million such charities in the United States.

The Internal Revenue Service approved 53,693 applications for tax-exempt status for charities, foundations and other organizations in 2010, though that’s down from 72,869 approvals in 2007.

“There is a need and a place for new nonprofits,” says Chicagoan Lisa Dietlin, author of the book Making a Difference II: More Tips, Ideas and Stories to Change Your World. They usually are formed, she says, by people who “are driven by passion, lack of access to services and a desire to make a difference” regardless of the economic climate.

Conversely, Dietlin says, some nonprofit groups don’t make it through tough economic times. Often, she says, it’s because “they’re not entrepreneurial enough, they’re not responding to the conditions of society. You have to be agile and flexible.”

Some organizations try to grow by making sure potential donors feel engaged.

Contributions to Rotary International and the Rotary Foundation increased almost 20 percent from 2009 to 2010. Leaders of the group, based in Evanston, attribute the growth to members who feel they are part of the organization’s international efforts to boost education and health and to fight poverty.

“It’s not to say that our members and donors have not been impacted by the economic crisis around the world . . . but they are passionate about the programs funded by the Rotary Foundation,” says general manager John Osterlund.

Pat Libby, director of the University of San Diego’s Institute for Nonprofit Education and Research, says most philanthropic giving is to universities, hospitals and arts groups, not those that serve the disadvantaged.

In times such as these, that has to change, she says.

“As Americans, we need to dig deeper this year,” Libby says. “It’s our moral responsibility to take care of each other. . . . These are desperate times.”

Gannett News Service

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