Arts groups among winners as charitable giving rebounds

Funding for music, museums and more is making a comeback after the lean years of the recession.

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At the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul, which has seen an uptick in donations in the past year, Hayley King, 5, enjoyed petting rats. Volunteer Laura Bretheim was giving instructions to pet the rats on the tail or back with a single finger.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

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Arts and culture were America’s fastest growing charitable choices in 2012, bringing relief to many arts groups after some lean years.

Donations to arts organizations jumped nearly 8 percent in 2012, reaching $14 billion, according to Giving USA, the leading national report on charitable giving. It’s a sign that funding for everything from music to museums — which took a back seat to social service donations during the recession — is making a comeback.

Many Minnesota nonprofits couldn’t help but notice the trend.

“It’s a different world out there,’’ said Carley Stuber, vice president of philanthropy at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul. “We’re seeing an explosion of growth with visitors and with donors, even donations at the door.’’

The Children’s Museum, for example, received $2 million in individual and corporate donations during the fiscal year ended June 2008, but $4.4 million in the fiscal year that ended last month, Stuber said.

Giving in all major funding categories went up, the report said, albeit not as quickly. Americans’ generosity overall grew by 3.5 percent, or $316 billion, in 2012.

“The arts, culture and humanities subsector, as well as the environment and animals … were among the areas experiencing significant growth in 2012,” said Una Osili, director of research at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, which researched the report.

“I think with the economy recovering, many donors are going back to their priorities before the recession,” she said.

Park Square Theatre in St. Paul also reported that fundraising turned a corner. Individual giving jumped from $146,000 in 2011 to $359,000 this fiscal year, said Michael-jon Pease, the theater’s executive director. The number of $1,000-plus donations jumped from 39 in 2011 to 73 this year, he said. Gifts from new donors jumped from $49,700 in 2011 to $111,700.

“Individual giving in all categories has trended up,” he said.

Minnesotans gave $4 billion

While arts and education funding topped the growth chart, they still represent only 5 percent and 13 percent of the giving universe, respectively. The biggest slice of the philanthropy pie goes to religious groups, which receive about a third of all donations. Religious donations, however, were flat in 2012 and have been flat for nearly a decade, Osili said.

The report didn’t break down giving by state. But Bill King, recently retired president of the Minnesota Council on Foundations, said Minnesotans donated about $4 billion to nonprofits and charities in 2010. Corporations donated about $1.4 billion, King said.

Nationally, Americans’ donations to causes and charities peaked in 2007 at $344 billion, Osili said. It then plummeted to a 30-year low of less than $300 million for the next two years. It has climbed slowly since.

The uptick in giving to animal welfare groups is another sign that Americans are returning to their “personal preferences,” she said.

The Animal Humane Society of Golden Valley has had mixed reaction to the downturn in the economy, said Katie Nelsen, vice president of marketing and development. One one hand, its annual Walk for Animals — which draws about 10,000 people and 5,000 pets — has failed to reach its more than $1 million annual goal for the past couple of years, she said. But overall donations have slowly grown, even with the economic downturn, going from about $5 million in 2008 to $6.2 million last year, she said. She attributed that in part to the hiring of two staff members to work on digital marketing and communications, as well as someone to solicit major gifts.

Corporations focus giving

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