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CHARITABLE DONATIONS ROSE 10.78% IN 1995

U.S. charitable donations jumped by 10.78 percent to nearly $144 billion last year, led by increased generosity toward environmental, health and general non-profit groups.

Convincing Americans to open their wallets more was a stock-market rally, higher wages and growing concern about threats in Washington to dismantle environmental protections.The American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel Trust for Philanthropy also credited more effective fund-raising strategies by charities and professionals for the increase in its annual survey, released Wednesday.

But the industry group urged charities to develop better longer term strategies, warning that the jump in 1995 contributions was largely driven by one-time factors.

The group is an arm of the New York-based American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel, which represents consulting firms that help charities and other institutions raise money.

Donors gave 17 percent more to philanthropies helping society and the public, including research institutes. Environmental and wildlife groups drew 12.5 percent more donations, thanks to worries about anti-environment measures in Congress and excitement about the 20th anniversary of Earth Day in 1995.

Donations to health groups rose 9 percent, education institutions rose 8 percent, and corporate contributions rose about 7 percent.

But religious congregations, up about 5 percent, continued to collect the most, receiving 44 percent of all 1995 contributions.

Giving to human-services groups fell about 7 percent, the second straight drop, but the decline eased from the previous year.

Nancy Raybin, head of the philanthropy arm, noted that aid to some groups in this category fluctuates based on natural disasters or other unforeseen troubles.

"To the extent that you can't predict when the crises are going to happen, that affects giving in that category," Raybin said.

Behind the overall growth in generosity was a boom in the stock market last year that encouraged investors to share more of their profits with charities. An increase in U.S. personal income at the fastest rate in five years also helped.

In addition, charities benefited from proposals in Congress to cut tax breaks for charitable giving, prompting people to give more in 1995 instead of this year, before any tax breaks may end.

Raybin called the temporary factors behind 1995's surge "a vivid reminder" that nonprofit groups need to step up fund-raising efforts.