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Fact Sheet on the Continued Crisis in Charitable Organizations

Paul C. Light

Three years after the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., confidence in charitable organizations continues to languish well below its pre-September 11 levels. Despite hopes that the confidence would rebound with the mere passage of time, the controversies surrounding disbursement of the September 11 relief funds and subsequent nationally-visible scandals surrounding the Nature Conservancy and several private foundations appear to have left a durable imprint that has yet to fade.

The number of Americans who express little or no confidence in charitable organizations increased significantly between July 2001 and May 2002, and remains virtually unchanged to this day. (See Tables 1 and 2 attached to this fact sheet.) As I argue in Sustaining Nonprofit Performance: The Case for Capacity Building and the Evidence to Support It, which is being released by the Brookings Press at the same time as this fact sheet, charitable organizations did not get any of the post-September 11 “rally” in confidence that boosted government and other civic institutions, but received all of the decline as America returned to a semblance of normalcy in 2002. As a result, confidence in charitable organizations stands roughly 10-15 percent lower today than it was in the summer of 2001.


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