The Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund gave $846 million in grants last year, setting a new record and signaling a strengthening market. The fund also received 21% more in donations last year, compared to 2004.

"These milestones reflect the continued generosity of our donors and demonstrate how donor-advised funds continue to bring more individuals to philanthropy by making giving simpler and more effective," said David Giunta, president of the 15-year old fund.

Fidelity cited the spate of natural disasters in 2005 as a cause for the spike in donations, as well as the 10% increase in the number of organizations nominated for grants, while an improving economy helped account for $1 billion in donations.

About 70% of the fund's donations come in the form of appreciated securities, according to the company. Such donations rise and fall with the S&P 500 Index and peaked with 79% of donations in 2000.

"A banner giving year is good news for the nation's non-profits, particularly when a strengthening market fuels more gifts of appreciated stock," Giunta said.

The biggest chunk of grants (34%) went to religious organizations, while 27% were awarded to human and community services groups, and 24% went to education causes.

Recently, the fund announced initiatives to give charitable investors a greater pool of funds to choose from, including new All-Cap Equity and Interest-Income II funds for a total of 11 options, and an endowment program to help investors set up charitable foundations of their own.

"We will continue to look for ways to build on our program to advance philanthropy by making it easier for more Americans to include charitable giving as part of their overall financial pans."

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