A robust economy and several high-profile donations marked a boom year for philanthropy, with Americans giving $10 billion more to charities in 1997 than the year before.
Gifts to international-aid groups saw the sharpest increase, rising 15 percent to $1.96 billion, according to a report released Wednesday. But religious organizations maintained their position at the top of the charity heap, receiving $74.97 billion, or about half of all 1997 donations.And as in years past, individuals made the vast majority of donations, dramatically outgiving corporations and foundations.
Americans gave $143.46 billion to charities in 1997, an increase of 7.5 percent from 1996, according to the American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel's Trust for Philanthropy. When adjusted for inflation, the increase was 5.1 percent.
"This was one of the best years in at least a decade," said Ann Kaplan, the group's research director. "These two years have just been very, very good years."
The 1997 rise followed a similar increase in 1996. There was little or no growth in charitable giving in the early '90s, largely as a result of the economic recession.
Kaplan attributed the giving boom to a strong economy and publicity given to several big donations.
"It's been fairly regularly that you just open the newspaper and see multi-million-dollar gifts," she said. "Not only do people have more, and the economy is in such good shape, but there seems to be also a climate for increased giving."
Media mogul Ted Turner announced in September that he planned to give $1 billion to the United Nations, and financier George Soros donated a total of $540 million to a variety of causes during the year.
One area where donations were down was to arts and cultural organizations, which received $10.62 billion, a 2.8 percent drop.
Contributions in 1997 to religious groups and congregations, which traditionally receive the greatest share of Americans' largess, were up 6.1 percent from 1996.
Educational organizations received the second-biggest piece of the charity pie, netting $21.51 billion, or 13.5 percent of all donations. That was an increase of 12.3 percent from 1996.
Health organizations received $14.03 billion, a 1 percent increase from 1996 and 8.8 percent of total 1997 gifts.