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What U.S. Donors Plan to Spend in ‘Giving Season’: Fidelity Survey

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The majority of American donors plan to maintain their level of charitable giving in the fourth quarter, despite the volatile market and economic conditions, The Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund said Tuesday in a statement announcing the results of a new survey.

In addition to the 55% of survey respondents who plan to maintain their level of donations, 8% of respondents said they would give more than in past years because the need for help is more acute. The survey encompassed donors who will give $200 or more in 2010.

The statement noted that the last three months of the year, known in the philanthropy world as the "Giving Season," are a critical fundraising period for many nonprofit organizations.

The survey found that while the majority of American donors will not change their habits this Giving Season, 36% said they are giving less than in past years because of financial limitations (30%) or the uncertain tax climate (6%). However, 88% of these say they are still making it a priority to give.

"There's no denying that it's been a challenging year for many Americans," Sarah C. Libbey, president of the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, said in the statement. "Priorities and pocketbooks are stretched, while the call for charitable giving is greater than ever. Yet, it is clear that Americans are deeply committed to giving — whether money or time — to the causes they care about, and that this commitment endures through both good and challenging times."

According to the survey, the 36% of Americans who plan to give less this year are split on how they are cutting back. Forty-eight percent of this group said they are giving less to all their causes, while most of the rest said they will reduce or eliminate donations for some causes.

The survey also found that two-thirds of donors who are giving less this year are considering making other types of donations instead of cash. Nearly 60% said they would give their time and skills, and 21% will give other assets, such as cars or antiques.

"Donations of this type can be one of the most effective and tax-efficient ways for Americans to sustain or grow their giving during challenging economic times,” Libbey said in the statement.

For the first nine months of 2010, contributions to Fidelity’s Gift Fund in the form of appreciated securities represented 51% of total contributions, according to the firm. This compares with 39% during the same period last year. In addition, the Gift Fund continues to help donors and their advisors regarding contributions of non-publicly traded assets, such as privately-held C- and S-Corp stock, partnership interests and real estate.

The survey found that donors are forward-looking in terms of their giving, with 66% indicating that all or most of their charitable giving for this year was planned ahead of time. This increases to 81% among households with $100,000 or more in annual income.

Tax planning is often a consideration in charitable giving, yet the survey revealed that it was not an overriding factor for most U.S. donors. It found that receiving a tax deduction was a significant influence for just 31% of all donors and 42% for households with more than $100,000 in income. The likelihood of higher taxes next year did not weigh heavily on donors' giving intentions, with 88% reporting they would not change their giving behaviors based on tax increases.

The Fidelity Giving Season study was conducted among a national probability sample of 603 adults (people 18 and older) who intend to donate $200 or more to charity in 2010. Interviews were completed by telephone September 17-20 by Opinion Research Corporation, an independent research firm that is not affiliated with Fidelity Investments.

The Fidelity Charitable Gift Fundis an independent public charity, established in 1991. Since its inception, the fund has helped donors support more than 136,000 nonprofit organizations with more than $10 billion in grants, according to the statement.