Nonprofits Escape Economic Slowdown

Philanthropic organizations weather the economic storm with near record $100 million gifts.

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It's been a wild ride on Wall Street these past few weeks and from where I sit if we're not in a recession already (it's a retrospective diagnosis, remember) we certainly seem to be heading for at least a mild one.

But one sector of the economy that seems to be thriving nonetheless is the philanthropic sector. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, "Twenty donors made gifts of $100 million or more last year, just shy of the record of 21 such gifts made in 2006, according to The Chronicle's annual ranking of the 50 most-generous Americans. And despite a turbulent economy, fundraisers seeking donations of $10 million or more predict another strong year of big gifts in 2008."

Those $100 million contributions alone will not keep the nonprofit sector going. And the giving habits of the nation's 50 richest Americans are certainly less affected by a looming slowdown than are donations made by the rest of us. But it's still good news that donations to nonprofit organizations may escape major economic blows this coming year, as the nonprofit sector itself is an important element of economic health.

The Urban Institute reports that "the nonprofit sector accounts for 5.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and 8.3 percent of wages and salaries paid in the United States...In 2005, individuals, corporations, and foundations gave $260 billion in charitable contributions to nonprofits."

Nonprofit institutions include a lot of billion-dollar-plus businesses including universities and hospitals. But still, any sector of the economy that can escape economic harm in a slowdown helps other sectors cushion the blow.