I couldn't save the barn owls of the United Kingdom last year, nor the wooly spider monkeys of Brazil. Literacy programs took a backseat to a local food pantry, and my high school alma mater's needs trumped requests from my college or grad school.

You may also have struggled with difficult decisions on charitable giving in the past few years, as the economy's collapse led to belt-tightening across the spectrum of individual spending. From travel to construction to groceries to trips to the coffee shop, people cut back. (OK, I didn't give up my daily store-bought hot chocolate. I'd sooner go without electricity.)

The Giving USA Foundation reported that 2008 charitable donations—individuals' gifts and bequests, corporate giving and foundation grants—dropped 2 percent from 2007, or from $314 billion to less than $308 billion. Definitive data for 2009 aren't available yet, but Boston College's Center on Wealth and Philanthropy estimated that U.S. household giving for 2009 will total between $216 billion and $218 billion, a decline of between 4.8 and 5.7 percent from the 2008 total of $229 billion.

These numbers are far better than what health care organizations confronted. As you'll read in our cover story, donations plunged an estimated 30 percent from 2008, from $8.6 billion to $6 billion, according to the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy.

For 2010, the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy offers two projections: Total household giving could return to the prerecession levels of 2007 or decline an additional 3.9 percent from 2009 estimates to $212 billion. In other words, it will depend on the economic recovery, something that is outside most of our spheres of influence. What you can control, however, is the message you're spreading about your hospital—the good it does for your community—as a care provider, community educator and major employer. Coming from a respected community leader, the hospital's story will be more compelling than any direct mail solicitation or media campaign.