Giving is still shrinking. It's one more troubling ripple of the struggling economy.
The nation's 400 biggest charities suffered an 11 percent drop in giving last year. That's the worst decline in the two decades since the Chronicle of Philanthropy started ranking those who get the most from private (nongovernment) sources.
Forecasts for 2010 giving seem little improved; donations are expected to rise by a median of just 1 percent this year, meaning that half expect to do worse than that.
And 2011 won't be much better. The buzz heard in philanthropic circles is similar to what's whispered in certain industries like housing, construction and manufacturing.
Are these just temporary declines or are we seeing a more permanent downscaling in giving that is part of the so called "new normal" in Florida and America?
Consumers are cutting back on spending on many fronts, and that apparently includes giving to charities. The trick is, lean times such as these are when charity work is most necessary, especially when government coffers that usually provide some last line of support for the needy are stretched and likely to become more so with budget cuts.
Some charities also are trying to figure out how to persuade younger people to give by reaching out online and appealing via social networks.
Combined, the "Philanthropy 400" raised $68.6 billion in 2009. Sounds big, but the 11 percent drop in contributions was nearly four times as great as the next biggest annual decrease: 2.8 percent in 2001, during another, less profound recession.
Of the top 10 charities last year, giving to United Way Worldwide (No. 1) decreased by 4.5 percent and to the Salvation Army (No. 2) by 8.4 percent. Others in the top 10 reporting declines last year include the American Cancer Society and the Y.
"It shows that charities are really having a tough time, and this is some of the most successful charities in the United States," Chronicle of Philanthropy editor Stacy Palmer told the Associated Press. "Usually, bigger charities are more resilient, so that's the part that is still surprising."
Among the nine Florida charities included in the Chronicle's latest Philanthropy 400 list, giving from private supporters varied wildly. Four Florida charities reported declines, including a whopper: No. 6 on the list of 400 and Florida's largest.
The international Food for the Poor charity in Coconut Creek, which helps feed the poorest of the poor (including Haiti earthquake victims), saw giving drop 27.6 percent in 2009 after at least seven straight years of double-digit gains.
But two other Florida charities, Tampa's Shriners Hospitals for Children and Orlando's Wycliffe Bible Translators, reported major giving gains of 20.8 and 31.3 percent, respectively. Messages seeking comment on how Shriners pulled off such a big charity gain in tough times were not returned Monday.
There were some charity casualties in the latest rankings — organizations once on the Philanthropy 400 that got squeezed off this year's list.
Among them was one familiar institution: Florida State University.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.