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Charitable Giving Sees Big Bump In 2016


By all accounts, 2016 will turn out to be a successful year for charities. Many nonprofits say they've seen a big increase in donations, and that doesn't count the last few days of December when there's often a rush of last-minute giving. One reason could be the strong stock market. But as NPR's Pam Fessler reports, that's not the only thing behind the rise.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: There are many signs that this will be a good year for philanthropy. One of the biggest came last month on what's called Giving Tuesday. That's a day-long campaign to encourage online giving. This year, it netted $168 million, a whopping 44 percent more than the year before. And charitable groups say they've seen other encouraging signs.

LORIE SLUTSKY: Contributions are frantically coming in.

FESSLER: Lorie Slutsky is president of the New York Community Trust, which supports many of the city's nonprofits. She says fundraising is up about $35 million over last year. She credits the strong economy but says some donors have also told her that their accountants are recommending that they give more this year because of possible tax changes next year under President Trump.

SLUTSKY: We've had a donor who's been with us for a long time who was going to give this year anyway but quadrupled his contribution because he thought rates are likely to go down.

FESSLER: And lower tax rates mean charitable deductions aren't worth as much. But that's not all that seems to be driving donors. Perla Ni is CEO of Great Nonprofits, a site that posts reviews of charities to help people decide where to send their money. She thinks many donors are reacting to the November election and fears that programs they support could come under fire.

PERLA NI: Some of the organizations that we've seen an increase in giving to are homeless organizations, organizations that serve women, organizations that help Muslims integrate into American society. So these are all the types of causes that people feel strongly about.

FESSLER: And she says they want to ensure that they'll be well-funded in the coming year. Stacy Palmer, who edits the Chronicle of Philanthropy, says progressive groups have benefited the most.

STACY PALMER: There's an expectation that they're going to have to do more. So groups like Planned Parenthood, as well, are seeing increased donations. And those have continued throughout the whole year-end period.

FESSLER: Palmer thinks that, overall, charitable donations will be up 4 or 5 percent this year. But she says there's a flip side. Many nonprofits rely on federal funding to provide services like housing and health care, and they worry what will happen to those funds if Republicans cut spending as they've promised to do.

PALMER: Plus, nonprofits serve the people who receive government aid. So if there's cuts in welfare that affect the very poor, they'll turn to charities for help. So the budgets of nonprofits themselves may be cut, and the people they serve may get cut.

FESSLER: And she says even a generous boost in giving probably won't fill the gap, which is why Lieutenant Colonel Ron Busroe, who oversees fundraising and community relations for the Salvation Army, says his group hopes to meet soon with the incoming president and his staff.

RON BUSROE: To be able to express to him the fact that there are those in our society who do need help, and they certainly cannot be forgotten.

FESSLER: Still, Busroe is pleased that online donations this year are up 12 percent, and the Salvation Army's Red Kettle campaign this holiday season is on track to break last year's record. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MELODIUM SONG, "IN DESERTO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.