Charitable giving hits new record

Charitable giving in the U.S. rose to an all-time record in 2013, according to a new report. But the growth in giving is lagging the gains in the stock market and the overall income gains of the wealthy.

Total giving by individuals, companies and foundations totaled $335.17 billion last year, driven mainly by giving by wealthy individuals, according to the annual report from Giving USA Foundation and the Indiana University Lilly Family School. That was above its 2007 pre-crisis peak of $311 billion and above last year's previous record of $320 billion.

Total giving rose $14.2 billion in 2013, marking a 4.4 percent increase, the report said.

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Giving by individuals represented the largest share and dollar growth of total giving. Individual giving rose 4.2 percent in 2013, to $240.6 billion. Giving by corporations fell 1.9 percent, to $17.9 billion. Giving by foundations increased 5.7 percent, to $48.9 billion, while giving by bequest rose 8.7 percent, to $27.7 billion.

One area that saw considerable growth was very large gifts of $80 million and up from individuals, couples and estates.

"While this has been a particularly slow recovery, many charities are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel," said L. Gregg Carlson, president of Henderson, Nevada-based Carlson Fund Raising and chair of Giving USA Foundation. "Donors are increasingly more comfortable giving to the causes they care about and at a level in keeping with the impact they would like to make."

The 4 percent growth, however, lagged the gains in the stock market last year and the gains made by top earners.

The S&P gained 30 percent in 2013, and many companies reported record profits. The incomes of the top 1 percent gained 31 percent between 2009 and 2012, according to income data from Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

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Household wealth in the U.S. also hit a record $80.7 trillion in 2013, up 44 percent from the 2009 trough, according to the Federal Reserve.

But charitable giving has grown 22 percent since the end of the recession in 2009, according to Giving USA. And on an inflation-adjusted basis, its gains from 2009 to 2013 are only 12.3 percent.

Carlson said that the difference between gains in giving and in stocks last year—growth of 4 percent compared with 30 percent—casts doubt on the common assumption that the pace giving is tied to the stock market. Giving, he said, also depends on GDP growth, personal income and consumption, which grew more slowly last year.

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He said giving also lags stock market gains, so the 2013 stock surge may show up in 2014 giving or later years.

"Make no mistake," he said. "The 2013 donations prove yet again that the call for support is answered generously by our citizenry."

The causes supported by charitable givers have changed since the recession. Although donors gave more to human services during the recession, they are now funding more arts, education and health groups.

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Giving to education jumped 8.9 percent, to $52.07 billion. And giving to "public-society benefit" groups, which include disaster relief, increased 8.5 percent, to $23.89 billion. Giving to arts groups rose 7.8 percent, to $16.66 billion.

Giving declined to religion, foundations and international affairs, although religion still has the biggest share of total giving, with 31 percent of total giving in 2013. Education ranked second with 16 percent, followed by human services at 12 percent.

—By CNBC's Robert Frank

(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the total amount given by individuals, corporations, foundations and by bequest.)