THE economy is lackluster, but the American people remain generous. That's especially noteworthy, because it confirms again what we've always known about Americans: they tend to understand that no matter how tight the family budget, there are always others worse off and in need of their help.
That helps explain why charitable giving in this country is expected to increase for the third year in a row, which is pretty impressive considering the job market, rising prices, the business climate, and personal belt-tightening.
None of that has kept U.S. citizens from donating to aid others in sudden and often dire conditions due to natural disasters, or giving to research aimed at curing disease, or to organizations such as Feed the Children.
As a matter of fact, donations in 2004 were up 11.6 percent over 2003 at the largest 400 charities in the nation. The Chronicle of Philanthropy, which keeps tabs on philanthropy and charitable organizations, said donations to those top 400 charities accounted for more than a quarter of the $248.5 billion given in 2004. This year should see a new record, in part because of Hurricane Katrina and other disasters.
The three organizations that received the most in 2004 were the United Way of America, which took in $3.9 billion; the Salvation Army, $1.5 billion, and Feed the Children, $888 million. Locally, United Way of Greater Toledo hopes to break its recent pattern and meet or exceed its $13.3 million goal for the 2005 campaign that ends Dec. 1. As of yesterday, it had received $6.5 million in donations and pledges.
The American Red Cross was a relatively sluggish performer last year, raising $557.1 million, which put it 11th on the list nationally. Giving at the American Red Cross this year should surpass 2004, even though it needs to borrow to cover hurricane relief efforts. It raised $556 million for the Asian tsunamis alone last December. So far it has received another $1.2 billion for victims of the Gulf Coast disasters, but that won't be counted until fiscal 2006.
Collectively, it's an encouraging reminder of the nation's generosity, but let's hope Americans aren't tapped out. The human needs are never-ending, and the hurricane season still has a month to go.