By Michelle Nichols
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. donations to charity rose to $291 billion last year, a study found on Monday, but it was still more than 6 percent below a 2007 record as the nation struggles to recover from its worst recession in decades.
Americans gave nearly 4 percent more in 2010 compared to 2009, the Giving USA Foundation and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University said, perking up after the recession sparked the biggest giving slump in four decades.
Revised estimates by the study, which started in 1956, showed that during the financial crisis giving fell more than $10 billion in 2008 to $299.8 billion and then dropped more than 6 percent in 2009 to $280.3 billion.
Patrick Rooney, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, said that giving in 2010 grew by 2.1 percent after adjusting for inflation.
"But the sobering reality is that many nonprofits are still hurting, and if giving continues to grow at that rate, it will take five to six more years just to return to the level of giving we saw before the Great Recession," he said.
The study estimates the giving by about 75 million U.S. households, up to 1.5 million corporations, an estimated 120,000 estates and about 77,000 foundations. That money goes to more than 1.2 million registered charities and some 350,000 American religious congregations.
Individual giving rose by 2.7 percent in 2010 to $211.7 billion, charitable bequests soared nearly 19 percent to $22.8 billion, foundation giving remained unchanged at $41 billion and corporate giving rose more than 10 percent to $15 billion.
Edith Falk, chairwoman of the Giving USA Foundation, a philanthropic research group, said that while giving had started to rebound, the gains "suggest philanthropy is likely in for slow growth over the next several years" and changes in donor behavior during the recession are likely here to stay.
"More corporations are focusing their philanthropy on organizations and causes that closely align with their missions and values. And foundations have been reluctant to take on new programs or fund new organizations," she said.
More than a third of U.S. donations go to religious groups, while education accounts for 14 percent, giving to foundations makes up 11 percent, human services receives 9 percent, health picks up 8 percent and public society groups 8 percent.
Arts and culture groups got 5 percent of the total, along with international affairs, which includes relief, development and public policy initiatives. Environmental and animal groups picked up 2 percent, and another 2 percent went to individuals, most often in the form of medications.
Donations that cannot be attributed to any one particular sector make up the last 1 percent.
The figures in the report are based on tax data, government estimates for economic indicators, and information from other research institutions.
(Editing by Xavier Briand)