Charitable contributions by individuals, corporations and foundations in the U.S. increased 4% to $298.42 billion in 2011, up from $286.91 billion in 2010, according to a survey by Giving USA Foundation and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Donations by individuals increased by an estimated 3.9% to $217.79 billion and made up 73% of total donations, while giving by foundations rose 1.8% to $41.67 billion and represented 8% of total giving.

Individual giving as a percentage of disposable income has stayed at 1.9% since 2009, but is well below the 2005 rate of 2.4%.

The contributions came from an estimated 117 million households, 12.4 million corporations, 99,000 estates and 76,000 foundations, according to the survey.

Patrick Rooney, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy, called the results “encouraging,” but said charities continue to face serious challenges.

“In the past two years charitable giving has experienced its second slowest recovery following any recession since 1971,” he said in a statement.

Corporate donations saw an estimated decline of 0.1% to $14.55 billion and were 5% of all giving, the study showed. 

Some of the most interesting changes in charitable donations could be seen on a sector level. Religious organizations, for instance, saw a 1.7% dip in giving to an estimated $95.88 billion as a result of lower church membership and attendance.

Though religious organizations were still the largest recipient of gifts, making up 32% of all donations, they were one of two subsectors to see a decline in giving last year.

Giving to international affairs organizations spiked 7.6% to $22.68 billion, and made up 8% of all charitable donations in 2011. International giving is the fastest growing subsector, averaging 9.4% annual growth since 1987, according to Una Osili, the director of research for the Center on Philanthropy.  

Osili credits this growth rate to the large expansion of charities involved in international affairs and Americans’ increasing awareness of international needs.  

Other subsectors that experienced an increase in giving were education (4% increase to $38.87 billion), health (2.7% increase to $24.75 billion), and the arts (4.1% increase to $13.12 billion).

The Annual Report on Philanthropy, produced by Giving USA and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, has examined charity donations by Americans since 1956, making it the longest-running study of its kind.