The dividend story of 2014 remains positive and, more importantly, growing.

Dividend increases among U.S. companies rose $12.6 billion in the April through June time frame, but that lags the $17.6 billion growth rate seen in the first quarter, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.

According to S&P Dow Jones Indices, 696 dividend increases were reported during the second quarter of this year compared to the 591 increases which were reported during the second quarter of last year. For the first half of 2014, 1,774 issues increased their payments, up 15.6% from the 1,535 issues that increased their payments during the first half of 2013.

Those data points underscore the importance of not just being invested in stocks that pay dividends, but those that are legitimate dividend growers.

From 1972 through 2012 companies that initiated or consistently raised dividends outperformed and were less volatile than the companies either did not pay, cut or kept dividends stagnant, according to Ned Davis Research.

Rising dividends are also increasing the allure of exchange traded funds that target dividend growth, such as the Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF (NYSEArca: VIG). VIG, the largest U.S. dividend ETF by assets, only holds companies with a minimum dividend increase streak of 10 years. [Dividend ETFs Still Popular Despite Slowing Growth]

ETF “providers are tapping into public demand for dividend income, driven in part by fears about rising interest rates and falling bond prices. The latter erodes the steady income that retirees and income investors rely upon,” reports Aparna Narayanan for Investor’s Business Daily.