NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Despite their own economic concerns, Americans reached deep into their pockets and gave an estimated total of $249 billion to charitable causes in 2004, up five percent over the previous year and setting a new record, according to a new report from the Giving USA Foundation.
According to the report, which was published by the Giving USA Foundation and researched and written at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, giving from all four sources of contributions --individual (living) donors, bequests by deceased individuals, foundations and corporations -- was estimated to have increased between 4 percent and 7 percent.
Individual giving, the single largest source, rose by an estimated 4.1 percent in 2004 to reach $187.92 billion, the report said, adding that living individuals account for three-quarters of total charitable giving in the U.S.
"About 70 to 80 percent of Americans contribute annually to at least one charity. Being a 'philanthropist' does not merely mean making huge gifts; it means giving to any cause that you value," Ray Clements, chair of the American Association of Fundraising Counsel, which launched Giving USA, said in a statement.
Religious organizations received the single largest share of contributions, with more than $88 billion donated to congregations and other religious entities, the report said. Education was the next-largest category for giving, receiving about $34 billion in 2004.
"Charitable giving is the lifeblood of more than a million American nonprofits," Henry Goldstein, chair of the Giving USA Foundation, said in a statement.
"Contributions fund research in medicine and the social sciences, endow scholarships, support museums and orchestras, and so much more," he added. "A 5 percent increase suggests donors are 'over the hump' of the economic concerns that limited the growth of contributions in 2002 and even somewhat in 2003."
At the same time, contributions made for relief after the Dec. 26 tsunami that devastated the regions surrounding the Indian Ocean were are a very small portion of the estimated total, or less than one-half of 1 percent.
The reason for that, the report pointed out, is that much of the tsunami relief giving will appear in 2005. At between $1.5 billion and $2.5 billion, tsunami relief contributions likely will be a low percentage of the total estimated charitable contributions this year.