Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Shirley Griffith. This week on our program, our subject is charitable giving in the United States.
SOUND: "This is the most wonderful thing in the whole world to do." "It's awesome." "Walking for my mom." "I certainly hope we find a cure. This is so worth it." "I'm walking for a lot of people so I feel like I have to keep going…"
Those were comments from people who took part in the Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk held in Washington, D.C., last month. People walked thirty-two kilometers a day for three days to increase public awareness and raise money to fight breast cancer.
Two thousand people registered for this year's walk. Each walker had to donate at least two thousand three hundred dollars. Walkers may donate their own money or raise money from friends and family members or fund-raising events.
Organizers say two hundred forty people raised between three and five thousand dollars; fifty raised between five and ten thousand. The top individual raised almost twenty-five thousand dollars. And the largest amount for a team was almost one hundred fifty thousand.
In all, organizers say the three-day walk raised more than five million dollars. That was down from last year, when more than three thousand walkers raised almost seven and a half million dollars.
Eighty-five percent of the donations from the walk go to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a charity organization. It supports breast cancer research as well as community health programs. Fifteen percent of the money goes to the National Philanthropic Trust Breast Cancer Fund. The fund supports education, research, treatment and prevention efforts.
Breast Cancer 3-Day Walks are held in fifteen cities across the country each year.
Thirty-eight-year-old Jenn MacDonald of Blacksburg, Virginia, has taken part in walks in San Diego, California, and Washington.
JENN MacDONALD: "You train, you raise money. So you walk twenty miles your first day, you sleep in a tent, you wake up -- I got to do this again? Yep, got to do it again. And then you do twenty-plus miles the next day, you sleep in a tent, you gotta wake up and you got to do it again.
"And people who have breast cancer, they have to do it every single day, the chemotherapy treatment, all the things they have to prepare themselves to do. It's that third day that really pushes people to their humanness, to that level of I-don't-want-to-do-this-anymore. And I think it pushes them to that point where getting rid of breast cancer will help those cancer patients go—"I don't have to do this anymore."
Charity groups use walks, runs and other sporting events to raise money for a number of diseases. But philanthropy in America also supports many other causes -- everything from the arts to animal shelters to summer camps for children. The word "philanthropy" comes from Latin and Greek terms for a love of people.
A million charities and foundations are recognized as tax-exempt organizations by the Internal Revenue Service. The I.R.S. is the federal tax agency. Tax-exempt means donors can claim their donations on their tax returns and possibly reduce the amount they owe the government.
The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University produces a yearly report called "Giving USA." The latest report estimated charitable giving in the United States last year at more than three hundred seven billion dollars. It was the second year in a row that the amount was above three hundred billion.
But the recession took a bite out of charitable giving. Last year's total was down almost six percent from two thousand seven after considering the effects of inflation. It was the first inflation-adjusted decrease in giving since nineteen eighty-seven. And it was the biggest drop since the group began publishing annual reports in nineteen fifty-six.
Individuals, businesses and foundations are responsible for more than ninety percent of all charitable giving.
Individuals provided an estimated seventy-five percent last year. Americans gave about two hundred thirty billion dollars to charities. That was a six percent drop from two thousand seven after adjusting for inflation.
Businesses gave an estimated five percent of all charitable donations. They donated more than fourteen billion dollars to charities last year, a decrease of eight percent.
And foundations were responsible for thirteen percent of all giving last year. The "Giving USA" report says giving by foundations fell about one percent to forty-one billion dollars.
So which kinds of charities receive donations?
The report shows that just over one-third of charitable donations last year went to religious organizations. Thirteen percent went to education and seven percent went to health-related charities. Other areas include arts and culture, international affairs and the environment.
The report says two-thirds of public charities receiving donations experienced reductions last year. But the Center on Philanthropy also says research shows that giving does not shrink as much as the economy in a recession.
Even in hard times -- and some might say especially in hard times -- people still show concern about others. In fact, donations increased for some kinds of charities, including religious organizations, last year after adjusting for inflation.
Still, many charities are not expecting an increase in donations anytime soon.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy just reported the findings of its latest survey of the nation's four hundred biggest charities. Half of the groups expect giving to drop this year by more than nine percent. And the charities are thinking they will raise only one or two percent more in two thousand ten than they did this year.
Three-fourths of the charities that answered the survey said the recession had forced them to dismiss workers or cut other spending.
The government defines charities as nonprofit organizations that serve the public by providing educational, religious or scientific activities. These organizations also aid the public welfare by working to improve peoples' health or economic condition.
Charities commonly raise money by mail, over the phone or on the Internet. Christmastime is a major time for charity appeals. The Salvation Army has one of the best known campaigns in the United States. Workers stand outside stores, ringing a bell and collecting money in a red metal kettle from shoppers passing by.
But not all groups that appeal for money are honest. And even honest charities may not use the money in ways that some donors would like. Experts say people should find out how much a charity spends on itself. Some leaders of charitable organizations are highly paid. But groups say they have to compete with the business world for top executives.
There are some organizations in the United States that act as watchdogs, rating the financial health of charities. They study records and advise the public about how groups use their donations. They also develop spending guidelines for nonprofits.
Charity Navigator is one of these organizations. This eight-year-old nonprofit group is supported by foundations, companies and individuals. The Web site offers free rating information on more than five thousand charities. It also has advice for donors.
For example, read copies of a group's financial records and be careful of groups with names that sound like well-known charities. Charity Navigator says smart givers generally do not respond to the first organization that appeals for help. They take time to do research.
Charity Navigator says the most efficient charities spend at least seventy-five percent of their budget on their programs and services. They spend less than twenty-five percent on fund raising and administrative costs.
Another watchdog group is the BBB Wise Giving Alliance; BBB is the Better Business Bureau. The Wise Giving Alliance suggests that at least sixty-five percent of spending by a charity should go to program activities. And still another group, the American Institute of Philanthropy, considers at least sixty percent to be an acceptable amount for program activities.
Finally, here is one piece of advice that all the experts can agree on: Any charity that is unwilling or unable to share its financial records is a charity not worth giving to.
Our program was written by Nancy Steinbach and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Shirley Griffith. And I'm Steve Ember. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs can be found at voaspecialenglish.com. You can also comment on our programs and read what other people are saying. And you can follow us on Twitter at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.