Charitable giving recovered somewhat last year, according to new estimates by the Giving USA Foundation, but experts are predicting that this year will present more challenges to nonprofit fundraisers.
Individuals, companies and philanthropic institutions made gifts and pledges totaling an estimated $290.89 billion in 2010, an increase of 2.1 percent on an inflation-adjusted basis over a revised estimate of $284.85 billion the year before.
The increase was the first since 2007, when the recession started and led to the biggest decline in giving in more than 40 years.
"I was greatly encouraged that giving showed this slight uptick in 2010," said Edith H. Falk, chief executive of Campbell & Co., a fundraising advisory firm, and chairwoman of the foundation, an arm of the Giving Institute. "We all know how difficult the prior two years had been because we experienced it personally in the work we do."
Chattanooga charities have seen similar giving trends.
Donations to the United Way of Greater Chattanooga were up nearly 2 percent in 2010 after a dip in giving between 2008 and 2009.
"The average gift has gone up, but overall our numbers have gone down," said Brent Taylor, vice president of resource development.
United Way raises most of its funds through payroll deduction contributions. As the recession hit and fewer people were working, fewer were able to make donations in that way.
Still, 2010 numbers were up locally, something Taylor attributes largely to alternative donation veins such as grants and large one-time donations.
With some luck, those kinds of grants and donations will appear again for 2011.
"That's what we're hoping," he said. "I'm anticipating that we'll stay flat."
Chattanooga's Partnership for Families, Children and Adults, a social services umbrella organization for the tri-state area, has seen a 10 percent increase in giving over the previous fiscal year.
Wade Kelly, director of development, attributed the increase to a renewed focus on soliciting donations.
"We've been out in the community more this year telling our story to key donors and key investors, and they're stepping up to the plate," he said.
Donations have continued to rise in 2011, and as the year presses on and the charity continues with its donation campaign, Kelly expects that trend to continue.
"We're optimistic. We're going to continue to go out there and share our story," he said. "We do feel that people will be generous to us and will invest their dollars in our mission to help those in our community who desperately need our help."
To get to pre-recession giving levels nationally, flat won't be good enough.
If giving on a national scale were to continue to grow at the same pace it did last year, it would be five to six years before it reached its 2007 peak of $326.57 billion.
"One of the challenges charities face is whether this represents the new normal or whether, if the economy starts growing more robustly again, giving also will grow more vigorously," said Patrick M. Rooney, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, which does the research and analysis that goes into the report.
Neal Litvack, chief development officer at the American Red Cross, said its core fundraising over the last six months, which excludes disaster-related giving, was up roughly 10 percent, a much faster pace than it experienced in the first half of its fiscal year, which ends June 30. The organization expects to raise $839 million this year, compared with $1.06 billion in the previous fiscal year, which includes the outpouring of gifts to support relief work after the Haitian earthquake.
"We're expecting fundraising revenue to be up at least 5 percent year over year in fiscal 2012," Litvack said. "It's bold, but we've gotten some great television coverage this spring" - of Red Cross work to address tornado- and flood-related disasters.
Giving by individuals, which accounts for the bulk of total charitable giving, rose just 1.1 percent to $211.77 billion, compared with corporate giving, which rose 8.8 percent to $15.29 billion. Corporate giving figures include values placed by companies on non-cash gifts like drugs.
Staff writer Carey O'Neil contributed to this New York Times story.