Investors contributed $748 million to Fidelity Charitable, the largest donor-advised fund in the U.S., in the first nine months of 2011, a 23% increase from the first three quarters of 2010. Thus, the fund is on course to receive the largest amount of contributions in its 20-year history, Fidelity said.

And in this period, investors in the fund recommended $832 million in grants to non-profits, a 12% increase over the first nine months of 2010.

“Donors have shown an impressive commitment to charity this year,” said Sarah Libbey, president of Fidelity Charitable. “Even in challenging times, American donors are making it a priority to support causes they care about. They plan ahead for giving, give because they want to, and to where it’s most important to them.”

Fidelity also found in a survey of 502 donors that 72% of plan to maintain or increase their level of charitable giving this year compared to last year, when 63% planned to increase their donations.

For the 72% of respondents who plan their giving in advance, 58% and 42% of their charitable dollars, respectively, are planned for allocation to organizations where they have no obligation to give and to organizations at the request of family and friends. However, 69% said that if tax deductions for charitable giving were limited for the most affluent households, it would curtail charitable giving in the U.S. overall.

The survey also found that social media, networking and online resources are beginning to resonate with donors, with 42% using the Web to find information, 40% using some form of technology to submit their donations, 31% using Internet search engines and 20% using social media sites. However, 51% said they plan to attend a charitable event to make their donations.

“Technology and social media are fast becoming a way for donors to connect with and support others, as well as support their own causes,” Libbey said. “These are powerful mediums and present great opportunities for charities. Our findings also show, however, that the traditional in-person event still holds value. Charities that combine the use of technology with the face-to-face event strategies are likely to find themselves at an advantage.”

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