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As Americans set new records for charitable giving in response to Hurricane Katrina, some fundraisers are seeing a principle confirmed: when the suffers are perceived as innocent victims, donors respond generously.

On the other hand, giving patterns suggest donors are losing patience with chronic problems such as poverty, in which suffering is arguably exacerbated by questionable choices. Private donations are shrinking for homeless shelters, AIDS-related services and programs for troubled youth, to cite just a few examples.

In religious circles and beyond, some see a troubling trend: Compassion is increasingly being reserved for those who appear to have done no wrong.

Giving patterns illustrate the contrasts. It took only 10 days after the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast for donors to exceed $602 million for relief efforts, according to data tracked by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. Similarly, 10 days after the attacks of Sept. 11, Americans had donated $239 million to relief efforts.

A quick glance at the big picture reveals an increasingly generous public. Total annual giving to all charities has climbed steadily from $231 billion in 2001 to $249 billion in 2004.

But closer scrutiny reveals that giving to human service causes—including legal services, food pantries and rehabilitation for ex-convicts—has declined every year from a $22.1 billion peak in 2001 to $19.2 billion in 2004. Hardest hit: small organizations, raising less than $1 million per year, received 3.4 percent less from private donors in 2004 than in 2003, according to Giving USA 2005.

"For some reason, we're not being sympathetic to the poor and the needy as we're leaving certain people behind," says Daniel Borochoff, president of the ...

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September 2005

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