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They're a growing method of giving, but they're not without critics.
And what are they giving to?
Philanthropists say they can take risks that government just can't -- which helps them tackle the root causes of big problems.
Each year, Americans give away billions of dollars. Some of those donations, particularly the large ones, come in for criticism.
The tax break for charitable deductions reflects American attitudes about government, and about the best way to help others.
There are some 80,000 private charitable foundations operating in the U.S. today, and you don't have to be crazy rich to launch a one.