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Charitable giving is up, but not for all

Published: Thursday, June 26 2014 12:40 a.m. MDT

Children smile from the back of a truck in Tacloban, Friday, Nov. 22, 2013.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

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The Philippines super typhoon Haiyan displaced more than 6 million people on Nov. 8, 2013, nearly seven times the number of those displaced in the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

But according to a report by the Pew Research Center, Americans were more engrossed in the mishaps that characterized the government's rollout of the Affordable Care Act than the devastation caused by Haiyan.

That type of distraction along with fewer natural disasters in general are among reasons researchers offer to explain the latest trend in charitable giving in the United States: a decline in giving to international affairs.

While giving to charity in 2013 reached pre-recession levels, international affairs declined 8 percent, according to findings in "Giving USA 2014: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the year 2013" published by Giving USA and Indiana University's Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

The report reveals that as the economy improved, overall charitable giving rose 3 percent from 2012 and 2013, to $335 billion in contributions. Donations increased to charities involved in health, education and the arts, but like in the Philippines case, some international charities didn't share in the increased generosity.

Reasons unclear

Reasons vary for the decline in giving to international affairs, which the report identifies as organizations whose primary mission is to work in international aid, development or relief.

Giving USA researchers explained last year's decline by pointing to fewer natural disasters. Donations in the wake of natural disasters make up a significant portion of giving to international affairs organizations, said Patrick Rooney, associate dean for the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and one of the key researchers on the Giving USA report.

But data from the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters show 310 disasters killed 9,930 people in 2012, while in 2013, 334 disasters killed 22,616.

While financial damage in 2013 was less than in 2012 — $118 billion compared with $138 billion — that is largely due to more disasters in developed countries in 2012 (such as Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast of the US), causing the majority of the economic damage. In 2013, 88 percent of disasters in 2013 occurred in Asia, according to the CRED report.

UNICEF, an international organization that works extensively in disaster relief, saw less response to the Philippines typhoon than past disasters of the same scale, said Barron Segar, senior vice president of development for UNICEF's U.S. fund.

The organization raised $20.1 million for Haiyan, a fraction of the $76.2 million raised for the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and the $142.1 million raised in response to the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2005.

The lack of response to what CRED labeled the deadliest disaster of 2013 could be tied to the lack of media attention paid to the disaster. Pew found that only 32 percent of Americans followed the news of Haiyan closely. By comparison, 55 percent of the public closely followed the 2011 tsunami in Japan, and 58 percent followed a 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

But a lack of attention by American viewers didn't appear to hurt Doctors Without Borders, which cited Haiyan as a major factor in the 12.3 percent increase it saw in funds raised last year, according to the organization's director of development, Thomas Kurmann.

The organization didn't expect the increase.

“It’s not possible to plan an emergency. We don’t consider it in our revenue budget because it would be too risky,” he said.

Depends on the disaster

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