Over half of American donors, 55%, plan to maintain the same level of charitable giving in the fourth quarter, despite market uncertainty, according to a survey by the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, the largest donor-advised program nationally.

Charitable giving is important to wealthy investors. Fidelity spokeswoman Teri Ginsburg said in an interview Oct. 20 that figures from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University showed that 98% of high-net-worth individuals made charitable donations in 2007, and their philanthropic behavior hasn't changed.

Eight percent of donors said they'd give more than usual because need is even greater in this economy than in past years. Recent natural disasters have also triggered interest in donating funds.

Then there's tax planning, which remains an important consideration, even when not the overriding motivation for most donors. Only 31% of respondents said tax deductions are a "significant" factor in their decision to donate, and 88% of donors said they wouldn't decrease their charitable giving because of tax increases. In July, another survey found that one in four advisers expected their wealthy clients to increase charitable giving to offset their tax obligations: At 51%, more than half of the donations Fidelity received in the first nine months of 2010 were in appreciated stocks, compared with 39% a year earlier.

Even though client demand is high, only 52% of advisers are proactively reaching out to clients, while 63% of advisers think clients need help in this area. "Many advisers aren't approaching clients about this," Ginsburg said. "It's an untapped opportunity for advisers to strengthen client relationships and grow their practices."

Advisers who don't offer help say it's because clients don't ask for it (52%), donations are a client's personal business (44%) or that the adviser lacks the expertise to offer guidance (31%). One might cynically suggest that advisers also have little interest in their clients giving their money away, too, but Ginsburg pointed out that in national donor-advised funds, advisers can retain control of how their clients' donations are invested.

That's a potential selling point to clients who cannot afford to give as much this year as they'd prefer. Just under one-third of donors (30%) said they cannot give as much as they normally would because of financial limitations resulting from market volatility, and 6% said they're holding back until tax implications are clear. However, 88% of people cutting donations in the fourth quarter said charitable giving remains a priority.

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