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Big Charities and Big Donors

December 15, 2014

According to a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy study, gifts rose 10.8 percent at large charities in 2013 as fundraisers at those nonprofits concentrated attention on wealthy donors while according to Giving USA, the total increase in contributions for all charities was three percent. It's a sure bet that big charities are doing the same this year because, as Jesse James used to say, it's where the money is.

Much of that increase, however, went to donor-advised funds like Fidelity Charitable, Schwab Charitable Fund, Silicon Valley Community Foundation and Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program (all of them in the top 10 largest nonprofits last year), which offer an immediate tax deduction to wealthy donors without a requirement that any of their donation be distributed immediately to charities. Schwab Charitable Fund increased donations by 165 percent. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation benefitted from a $1.5 billion stock donation from Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

More traditional charities like Seattle Children's Hospital, Catholic Relief Services, Humane Society of the United States, International Rescue Committee, and Trust for Public Land, as well as universities like Georgia Institute of Technology, Florida State University, Rutgers University and George Mason University, also saw large increases in giving from wealthy donors according to the Chronicle.

Easter Seals increased donations by nearly seven percent by developing more connections with wealthy individuals who can give $50,000 or more. The Nature Conservancy concentrated attention on individuals and families who could contribute $5 million or more. And, affluent donors at Georgetown University pushed donations over the $1 billion mark in a $1.5 billion capital campaign.

Not all news was good news for big charities, however.

United Way Worldwide, while still numero uno with $3.9 billion raised in 2013, saw contributions fall by 1.4 percent. The American Cancer Society, which was number 7 on the list in 2010 is now number 16; AmeriCares Foundation, which was number 3 on the list in 2010 is now number 25; and World Vision, which was number 8 five years ago is now number 26.

"We are a reflection of middle-income giving," says Brian Gallagher, president of United Way Worldwide. "And, middle-income America is still struggling past the recession."

As we go deeper into the holiday season, here are five of my favorite big charities. I support smaller, more local ones as well, but these are national or global organizations that are making a difference and saving lives every day. (Note: this list does not constitute an endorsement from American Express; it's just my personal list of favorites this holiday season.)

American Red Cross ( responds to over 70,000 disasters each year, including home fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and other emergencies.

Feeding America ( feeds America's hungry through a nationwide network of food banks.

International Rescue Committee ( is caring for millions of refugees in 22 of the most war-torn and disaster prone areas of the world.

Save the Children ( gives children what they need to grow up healthy in happy in over 120 countries.

U.S. Fund for UNICEF ( does what it takes to save and protect the world's most vulnerable children.

If you have a question or comment, please follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and let's start a conversation there.

Happy giving and happy holidays! CSR Now! will return on January 12, 2015.


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