All across the country, Americans get together to share their concerns and passions, especially when it comesto improving their communities. The philanthropic spirit moves people to support the arts, contribute to theiralma maters, construct low-income housing, improve education and tackle all kinds of social ills. America'scharities, nonprofit organizations, and religious congregations are remarkably diverse, ranging from smallgroups of volunteers working out of basement offices to national fraternal organizations with several hundredthousand members to multi-billion dollar enterprises with skyscraper headquarters and global ambitions.
Generosity, whether measured in time or money, is on the rise after stagnating for almost a quartercentury following the economic turmoil of the 1970s. Americans gave some $190 billion, or 2.1 percent ofGross Domestic Product, to charities in 1999, according to figures compiled by the American Association ofFund-Raising Counsel. That's up from $124 billion and 1.5 percent of GDP in 1997 (see chart on page 4).Volunteerism is strong, too. Among adults age 18 or over, more than half volunteer their time. In a sense,the nonprofit community is the nation's largest employer with some 109 million volunteers donatingan average of 3.5 hours a week.
This guide is designed as an introduction to the major options available for giving money away.