Posted 10/16/2011, The Chronicle of Philanthropy by Noelle Barton and Holly Hall

The 400 charities that raise the most in America have yet to make up for drops in the recession. Even so, some groups defied the odds, such as Rotary International‘s drive to fight polio in poor countries.

10 14 2011 Phil 400 SF 1

Rotary Foundation of Rotary International

America’s big charities expect fund raising to rise in 2011, but the increase won’t come close to making up ground they lost in the downturn.

Nonprofits that made The Chronicle’s Philanthropy 400, the charities that raise the most from private sources, expect a median rise of 4.7 percent—meaning that half expect more and half expect less. That beats last year’s 3.5-percent median gain. Altogether, the charities in the survey raised $70.3-billion last year.

Nonetheless, the nonprofits are still not raising as much as they did before the recession.

Charities on the list together raised 8 percent less last year (after in inflation) than they did in 2007.

And even this year’s healthy figure masks a big divide in the charity world: Most of the gains came at international charities and other groups that get a lot of donated medicine, food, and other products. The other large increases were achieved by community foundations and organizations like the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund that depend largely on gifts of donated stock, which rallied last year. The money donors put in such funds can be spent anytime, not necessarily this year.

When those groups are excluded from analysis, the increase in gifts was flat.

Charities on the Philanthropy 400 are an important bellwether for the state of giving, and how American donors are responding to the bad economy. The nonprofits on the list raise $1 of every $4 contributed to nonprofit causes.

Inside the List

The trends are evident in the top 10 organizations on this year’s survey. A few examples:

  • Two groups that rely largely on cash donations—United Way Worldwide (No. 1) and the American Cancer Society (No. 8)—retained their same rankings this year as last year on the Philanthropy 400’s top 10, but fund raising stayed flat for both, with gains of less than 1 percent. Another group that relies heavily on cash gifts, Catholic Charities, fell from No. 3 to No. 10, with a more than 2-percent decline in donations, to $793.8-million.
  • Organizations that receive a lot of stock have seen their fortunes rise. For example, the nation’s top donor-advised fund, the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund (No. 3), raised $1.3-billion last year, a more than 38-percent increase over 2009. A similar group, the Schwab Charitable Fund, climbed from No. 22 to No. 7 by raising $926.4-million in 2010, a jump of more than 92 percent.
  • Three of the top 10 charities—the Task Force for Global Health (No. 4), Food for the Poor (No. 6), and the AmeriCares Foundation (No. 9)—are groups that count donations of products or services as 90 percent or more of their total gifts.

Two charities in the top 10 bucked the trend in declining cash gifts. The Salvation Army (No. 2) grew by 5.1 percent last year, and the American Red Cross (No. 5), raised nearly 64 percent more.

The American Red Cross said its giving was lifted by the Haiti earthquake in 2010.

The Salvation Army attributed its growth largely to a publicity campaign called “Doing the Most Good,” which, after several years—and a few missteps—has increased Americans’ understanding of the charity’s work to serve the poor.

Read more about this year’s Philanthropy 400, and learn how strong and evolving fund-raising tactics are helping some charities on the list raise millions of dollars annually and achieve respectable gains, despite the troubled economy.


One response »

  1. Pingback: List of America’s Top 400 Charities released « Philanthropylady

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