After a long slump, fundraising among nonprofit groups has finally returned to pre-recession levels, Charleston-based Blackbaud Inc. said in a report published Thursday.

Charitable giving in the first 11 months of 2011 was up 1.4 percent over the same period of 2007, right before the U.S. economy began to falter. It's also up 3.4 percent over 2010, the analysis of about 1,200 donor-driven organizations found.

But nonprofits aren't likely to be jumping up and down yet, said Chuck Longfield, creator of the Blackbaud Index. He cited two bits of "tempering" information: The estimated 8 percent inflation in the past four years, coupled with an increased demand for nonprofit services over that same period. "We still have a ways to go before nonprofits are whole in real terms," Longfield said Thursday.

Still, most indications are looking up.

The Blackbaud Index, which the Daniel Island-based software company has been compiling monthly since June 2010, compares three-month trailing figures against the same period of the previous year. That percentage change has been positive each month since at least November 2010, with double-digit increases last May, June and July.

George Stevens, chief executive officer of the Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina, said he has seen the same kind of bounceback. The Charleston-based foundation, which Stevens said gives out about $13 million each year to 700 area nonprofits, has raised about $9.4 million in its current fiscal year, about a million dollars more than the corresponding period a year earlier.

Stevens said he had just spoken to Trident United Way CEO Chris Kerrigan, who reported a similar broad-based fundraising bump.

"It's multiple gifts, giving levels seem to be higher, and people are giving to all different kinds of charities," Stevens said Thursday.

He speculated the rebound in donations is an "early indicator that the economy is coming back and people are becoming more comfortable with their charitable giving."

Stacey Denaux, CEO of Crisis Ministries, said the recession actually caused more people to give to her agency, which serves the hungry and homeless, and the trend has continued.

About 100 more donors gave in 2011 than in 2010, and the average gift increased from $343 to $515, Denaux said. Unfortunately, "demand and need are continuing to grow," she said, and the nonprofit's campaign for a new shelter is still $1 million short.

Human services was one of three sectors that reported increases in September-November giving, according to Blackbaud, which makes software specifically tailored for the nonprofit industry. The others were health care and the category encompassing the arts, culture and humanities.

All sectors reported a significant increase in online giving. While the vast majority of giving still happens offline, Longfield said, "in general, there's a ...movement toward this channel, and you can see that in the data."

Regardless of how the money is coming in, between personal and colleagues' experience and what he's read in recent reports like Blackbaud's, Stevens is convinced a true recovery is afoot. "I'm pretty confident this is a real uptick," he said.

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