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Times may be tough, but Americans still find ways to give back. A recent survey finds that 86 percent of Americans have donated money to charity in the last year. However, while overall the percentage of people who give has remained relatively steady over the past couple of years, the dollar value of the average annual donation has shrunk as economic burdens have grown. In 2001, almost a quarter of Americans (24 percent) said that they had donated $500 or more in the previous year. Today, only 14 percent say they've been able to give away as much.

These are the results of a study entitled, “Customer Focus 2003: Nonprofit,� commissioned by Vertis, a marketing firm based in Baltimore, and conducted by Marshall Marketing and Communication of Pittsburgh in April/May 2003. The survey included responses from a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults.

Health is the perennial leading cause to which Americans say they donate money, ranking No. 1 this year, as well as in similar studies conducted by Vertis on the topic in 2001 and 2002. This year, more than half of Americans (52 percent) say they've given money to health-related nonprofit organizations. Seniors (in this survey defined as those age 75 or older) are the most likely to have contributed money to health causes, with 68 percent of them doing so. Seniors are also disproportionately more likely than other demographic groups to have given to most other types of organizations — especially religious, social services and political nonprofit groups.

Significantly fewer Gen Ys (in this study defined as Americans age 18 to 26) have given money to charity in the past year. Credit that, most likely, to a relatively limited amount of disposable income as compared with older generations. Still, many of them give what they can: Half of all Gen Ys say that they have donated between $1 and $99 to charity in the past year, and an additional 18 percent have given $100 or more. Furthermore, a majority of them (57 percent) say that they plan to volunteer or donate items in the coming year. Even so, the percentage of Gen Ys giving non-monetary charitable contributions is significantly less than that of most other groups. For instance, 70 percent of both Gen X (ages 27 to 38) and Baby Boomers (ages 39 to 57) plan to volunteer time or give other items to charity next year. Only seniors eclipse Gen Y for the least giving in this area: just 43 percent of them plan to donate non-monetary contributions in the coming year.

When it comes to reaching givers, direct mail appears to be the most effective medium. A majority of Americans today (59 percent) — up from 49 percent in 2001 — say that the information about the charities to which they contribute usually comes via direct mail advertising. For comparison, 45 percent of givers learn about organizations through special events and 41 percent receive information by word of mouth. Telemarketers, telethons, Internet pitches and infomercials work the least with the majority of givers.

However, different mediums tend to be more effective with different demographic groups, according to the Vertis study. While just 16 percent of all adults contribute to organizations they learn about online, almost a quarter of Gen Ys (24 percent) get their information this way. This generation is also more likely to donate to charities they learn about through friends and relatives. Boomers, on the other hand, are more swayed to donate to causes they learn about at special events and fund-raisers (51 percent versus 45 percent of the total population) and through employee sponsorship programs (37 percent versus 26 percent of the total population). Direct mail and church functions work the best with the Young/Olds (defined here as Americans ages 58 to 74).

For more information, visit or call Carla Marshall at (619) 234-0345.

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