WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — Last year was the best ever in charitable giving, with Americans donating $358 billion in 2014.

Donations surpassed pre-recession levels in the U.S. as Americans gave an estimated $358 billion to charities in 2014 – up nearly $47 billion from donations given in 2007, according to the annual Giving USA Foundation report based on tax returns and other data collected by researchers at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Several large charities noted that when people feel good about the economy, they give across the board. So-called “mega gifts” – single donations by wealthy individuals that exceed $200 million – saw a marked increase last year. Bill and Melinda Gates gave almost $2 billion to the Gates Foundation in addition to an increase in young, tech entrepreneurs joining the elite ranks of philanthropy.

“Much of that increase that we’re seeing is based really on what was a healthier economy as we came out of the Great Recession,” Keith Curtis, of Giving USA, told National Public Radio. “Some of them are young and they’re making those decisions to give back; and when they’re giving, they’re giving significant gifts.”

Total donations increased by 7.1 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to the Giving USA report.

An analysis last year by the Chronicle of Philanthropy revealed that Americans earning more than $200,000 reduced the share of income they gave to charities by 4.6 percent between 2006 and 2012. Meanwhile, those earning less than $100,000 donated 4.5 percent more of their annual income during the same time period.

John Enzler, president and CEO of Catholic Charities in the D.C. area, told NPR they’d seen an increase from $2 million to $10 million in recent years.

“We have had a phenomenal increase in donations over the last four years,” said Enzler. “But also I think frankly we’ve taken a much stronger approach to asking people to help us, telling the story better, telling people why the need is there.”

Elizabeth Boris of the Urban Institute said the rough economy removed a lot of funds across the board – but she noted a 12 percent increase in corporate donations.

“It’s been a really difficult time for charities because other sources of revenue have also been flat, government grants and contracts, perhaps fees for service, it’s been a rough haul,” said Boris.

“Corporations are doing quite well, so it’s about time,” she added.

Foundation giving increased by $54 million, according to the data collected by philanthropy researchers at Indiana University. Donations to religious organizations still compose the largest percentage of all U.S. donations – 32 percent last year. However, this is down from 53 percent of all U.S. donations in 1987.

Benjamin Fearnow