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Report: Donations to big charities down

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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: A report out this morning from the Chronicle of Philanthropy has some bad news about philanthropists. They're not giving as much. In the midst of the Great Recession, donations were down last year by double-digits. Now that decline has hit the country's biggest charities -- groups such as the Salvation Army, United Way, American Cancer Society and others. And we are going to check in now with Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman, who is reporting live for us this morning. Good morning, Mitchell.

MITCHELL HARTMAN: Good morning, Steve.

CHIOTAKIS: How bad is it out there for charities?

HARTMAN: Well, the Chronicle looked at the 400 biggest U.S. charities. Overall, giving was down 11 percent last year, it's the biggest decline since they started keeping score two decades ago.

CHIOTAKIS: So is the reason simply the recession, Mitchell?

HARTMAN: Well that's part of it, obviously. People are feeling strapped they are cutting back on their giving. It's especially true for what might be considered, at least by some, "discretionary" charities, things like the ballet, museums, historical societies. But even giving for basic needs was down to groups like the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity. Stacy Palmer edits the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

STACY PALMER: People are starting to feel that there's nothing they can do to solve these problems, they're so serious, that the groups keep coming back for more money and saying, "more people are hungry, more people need shelter." And everyone knows that's true. But they wonder where the money's going and what can be done to help.

CHIOTAKIS: Mitchell, is the downturn in giving across the board?

HARTMAN: Well, the efforts of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and all their billionaire friends notwithstanding, the answer is yes, the wealthy are also giving less. Again, here's Stacy Palmer.

PALMER: We've seen a turndown in the number of wealthy people who are giving those really big mega-gifts. So I think even the wealthy are still just not sure where this economy is going and what they want to invest in.

HARTMAN: Now on a brighter note, Palmer says giving does appear to be rebounding a bit this year with the economy slowly improving. And groups that are getting it together with social media, an example is letting people "text" in their contributions, those groups are doing a little better.

CHIOTAKIS: Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman reporting live. Mitchell, thanks.

HARTMAN: You're welcome.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.
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Reduced gifting to charities is in direct proportion to the monies being poured into the mid-year elections now that campaign donations are a protected form of free speech.

While overall giving is down, some charities are seeing increases, such as Habitat for Humanity and World Vision. Those relying on donated goods have done better than those relying on donated cash or stock.

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