Amid downturn and government cuts, charity steps into the breach

Posted: June 27, 2012

As the nation emerged from a deep recession, millions of Americans showed a welcome, and even surprising, spirit of generosity. They offered the less fortunate a hand up, and they bolstered support for education, the arts, and international relief efforts.

The nearly 4 percent increase in 2011 charitable giving by individuals reported this month — as opposed to corporate philanthropy, which basically flatlined — stands out as a bright spot on a still-ailing economic landscape. The report came from the nonprofit Giving USA.

While donations didn't recover to their prerecession high of nearly $310 billion, reached in 2007, last year's increase was even more impressive for being the second annual rise in a row.

If the donor figures represent any sort of trend, communities that look to nonprofits and other charitable groups for increasing support certainly will be looking for ways to explain the largesse — and to keep those donations flowing.

Maybe it's as simple as some people landing a job after a long stretch of unemployment, and deciding that they were comfortable enough to ramp up support for their favorite worthy causes. Or maybe the increase was a sign that folks realized more of their neighbors were in need. They then perhaps turned around and, when they saw need elsewhere, responded to others in good-neighbor fashion.

Certainly, there has been a drumbeat of reports on cutbacks in social-program spending. Whether in Harrisburg, Trenton, or some other Republican-controlled state capital, the opening of those safety-net holes shows a growing need for private charity.

If some donors are reacting to government lowering its sights, then they may be casting a vote as well on the no-taxes ideology that drives cutbacks. Perhaps it's a "take that, budget-cutters," or maybe donors are offering support for privatizing core functions once handled by City Hall.

All in all, it's good news that Americans remain a generous bunch, especially in tough times.

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