Local United Ways post 4.7% gain in money raised Nation's top charity donor took in $3.4 billion


The 1,300 local United Ways raised $3.4 billion last year, a 4.7 percent increase over the $3.25 billion raised in 1996 and the second year in a row that giving to the nation's largest private donor to social services charities has increased significantly faster than the rate of inflation.

"We're making real gains that show confidence in United Way," Betty Stanley Beene, president of United Way of America in Alexandria, Va., said on Thursday. United Way plans to officially release the figures tomorrow.

Despite the increases last year and in 1996, when the value of gifts is adjusted for inflation, donations are still 7.6 percent below the $3.68 billion donated in 1991. In 1992, the president of United Way of America, William Aramony, was dismissed and later imprisoned for embezzling charitable money.

Among the 75 largest United Ways, which raise $10 million or more annually, the largest increases in giving were reported by Austin, Texas, up 25 percent to $10 million; Charlotte, N.C., up 21.5 percent to $26.5 million; Miami, up 20.5 percent to $32.8 million, and Wilmington, Del., up 17.6 percent to $25.4 million.

Only two of the largest United Ways, in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Honolulu, reported declines, both of nearly 5 percent.

The increase in Delaware is significant because donations fell sharply in the middle of the decade when that United Way embraced donor option, in which supporters can designate which charities receive money deducted from their paychecks.

The turnaround last year came after the United Way in Delaware kept the donor option but stopped promoting it, and instead focused on its role of providing operating support for agencies such as the Boys and Girls Clubs.

Despite the national growth, United Way lagged behind the growth in donations to all charities last year.

The American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel in New York estimated last month that overall giving increased by more than 6 percent to $143.5 billion last year. The rise was led by an increase of more than 10 percent, to $13.4 billion, in grants made by foundations, whose assets have swelled in the extended bull market.

Giving by individuals last year increased nearly 6 percent to slightly more than $109 billion, virtually identical to the growth in individual donations in 1996. While United Ways trailed behind this increase, they did much better than charities in the arts, culture and humanities, which saw a 3 percent decline in donations, according to Giving USA.

What may be a significant shift in giving patterns shows up in the details of the United Way reports and in IRS data cited by Giving USA.

Historically the poorest Americans have been the most generous, donating a share of their incomes that is twice as large as that given by the middle class and the wealthy. Donations to churches, synagogues and mosques account for most of the giving by the poor. But preliminary data suggest that giving by the affluent is rising, while donations by those who earn modest incomes are declining.

Pub Date: 8/16/98

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