Most U.S. giving tied to religion

Religion drives charitable giving by U.S. households, with religious groups getting most of the money, and religious motivation stimulating most of the giving, a new report says.

Seventy-three percent of household giving goes to religious groups, including 41 percent to congregations and 32 percent to religious charities, says Connected to Give: Faith Communities, a report from Jumpstart and the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.

In comparison, 27 percent goes to charities that are not identified as religious.

The report, conducted with GBA Strategies and based on a survey of 4,862 American households of various religious traditions, also finds that Americans with religious or spiritual orientations give at higher rates than those without those orientations.

Americans affiliated with different religious traditions give at similar rates to one another, and over half of Americans who give say their commitment to religion is a key motivation for their charitable giving.

“The implications are clear for all types of charitable organizations, whether or not they have religious ties,” Mark Ottoni-Wilhelm, professor of economic and philanthropic studies at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, says in a statement. “They should pay attention to the religious orientations of their donors.”

Religious charities also should consider finding “ways to connect with non-religious donors who share an interest in their charitable purpose,” he says. “And organizations that think of themselves as non-sectarian may find that many of their donors have strong faith-based motivations to support their work.”

Who gives

Donors who give to congregations allocate 80 percent of their overall charitable dollars to groups with religious ties, including 48 percent to congregations and 32 percent to religious charities.

Among donors who make gifts for non-religious purposes, 69 percent of their charitable dollars support organizations with religious ties, including 39 percent for congregations and 30 percent for religious charities.

Non-religious charities

Although nearly three-fourths of charitable dollars given by households goes to religious groups, a larger number of Americans give to groups that are not identified as religious than to congregations or religious charities, the report says, with 53 percent giving to non-religious charities, and 44 percent each giving to congregations and to religious charities.

In 2012, 63 percent of all Americans gave to congregations or religious charities, with a median gift amount of $660, including a median gift of $375 to congregations and $150 to religious charities.

Among those giving to non-religious charities, the median gift was $250.

Implications

The report says non-religious charities might consider how to “diversify and segment their stakeholder base, explicitly making room for those with religious motivations alongside people who do not consider themselves religious.”

It also says that religious charities seeking support from non-religious donors might consider “benchmarking their outcomes,” compared to non-religious charities in the same field, rather than within religious communities.

Religious charities also might consider “how they communicate with people who are not traditionally or conventionally religious,” the report says.

It also says the U.S. nonprofit and philanthropic sector “would benefit from greater attention and sensitivity to the connections between religious identity and charitable giving, especially in professional education and training.”

Mixed giving

For most charitable purposes, donors give both to religious charities and non-religious charities rather than only to one type or the other, the report says.

Across all charitable purposes, 39 percent of Americans give both to religious and non-religious charities, while 5 percent give only to religious charities and 15 percent give only to non-religious charities.

Religious orientation

Americans with religious or spiritual orientations give at higher rates mainly because they give more to religious charities, the report says.

Among the 80 percent of Americans who formally identify with a religious tradition, 65 percent give to congregations or charities, compared to 56 percent of Americans who do not formally identify with a religion.

Americans affiliated with a religion give to congregations at three times the rate of those not affiliated with a religion.

Spirituality

Sixty percent of Americans think of themselves as religious and 18 percent think of themselves as spiritual but not religious, while 22 percent think of themselves as neither religious or spiritual, the report says.

Giving rates to congregations, religious charities and non-religious charities are highest among those who see themselves as religious, followed by those who see themselves as spiritual but not religious, and then those who see themselves as neither religious or spiritual.

Importance of religion

Forty-one percent of Americans say religion is very important to them, and 74 percent of them give to congregations or charities, while 25 percent say religion is somewhat important, and 60 percent of them give to congregations or charities.

Among Americans for whom religion is not important, 52 percent give.

Attendance at religious services

Among the 36 percent of Americans who attend religious services at least once a month, 79 percent give to congregations or charities, compared to 55 percent who give among those who attend religious services less frequently or not at all.

Different religious traditions

The report finds no significant differences overall in giving rates to congregations and charities among the give biggest religious groups the report analyzes — Black Protestants, Evangelical Protestants, Jews, Mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics — except that Jews give at lower rates to congregations.

And Americans across all different religious traditions give similarly across all charitable purposes, with a small number of exceptions where affiliates of certain religious traditions give at higher rates compared to those who are not affiliated.

Income level

The report finds no clear pattern of relationships between, on the one hand, religious identity and giving, and on the other, demographic categories such as income and age.

As household income rises, for example, the biggest increases in giving raters are to non-religious charities.

Lower-income Americans give to congregations, religious charities and non-religious charities at relatively consistent rates.

Giving rates to congregations and religious charities are similar among Americans with household incomes of $50,000 to $100,000 and those with household incomes of $100,000 or more.

Both those groups are more likely to give to congregations and religious charities than are Americans with household incomes below $50,000.

Those with household incomes above $100,000 are more likely to give to non-religious charities than those with lower household incomes.

Age and giving

Among people under age 40, higher incomes are associated with higher giving rates to congregations and non-religious charities, while giving rates to congregations increase with age among households with lower incomes, the report says.

Giving rates to religious charities are similar across age groups, although giving to congregations and non-religious charities increases with age.

Americans age 65 and older are more likely to give to congregations and non-religious charities than are those age 64 and younger.

Americans of all age groups, especially those age 65 and older, give at higher rates to congregations than to basic needs charities and “combined-purpose” religious charities — the two categories most popular among all Americans.

Age and religious affiliation 

Americans under age 64 who are affiliated with a religious tradition are less likely than those over 64 to give to congregations and religious charities, the report says.

And while non-affiliated Americans under 64 also are less likely than those over 64 to give to non-religious charities, they are more than twice as likely to give to congregations and religious charities.

Thirty-four percent of non-affiliated Americans under age 40 gave to a religious charity in 2012, compared with 15 percent of those age 65 and older.

Non-affiliated Americans under age 65 give to combined-purpose religious charities at more than twice the rate of those 65 and older.

Non-affiliated Americans age 65 and older give to basic-needs non-religious charities at higher rates than those under age 40 or age 40 to 64.

Religious motivation for giving

More than half of Americans who give say their commitment to religion is an important or very important motivation for their charitable giving, the report says.

Fifty-five percent of Americans who give say they are motivated to give by their commitment to their religious affiliation, 55 percent say they are motivated because they feel they should help others who have less, and 57 percent say they are motivated because they can make change and impact through their giving.

Far fewer are motivated to give as a result of expectations at work, because they were asked by a friend or associate, or because it is an expectation of their social network.

Todd Cohen

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