Philanthropy Across America

Have you ever wondered how charitable your neighbors are?  Your town? Your state?  A new study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy compares tax returns of taxpayers who earned $50,000 or more in 2008 to determine their levels of giving. The trends were that those that had less gave more.  States that voted Republican in 2008 gave more.  People in states considered deeply religious gave more, too. As for volunteering, the statistics show that more than one in four Americans volunteer.

The families studied gave $135 billion or almost two-thirds of the $214 billion donated by all individuals in 2008. Giving was calculated after major expenses like taxes, housing and food to level the playing field. The median charitable donation was 4.7 percent of discretionary income.

The state with the highest percentage of giving was Utah at 10.6 percent.  The people of Utah also topped the chart for volunteering at a rate of forty-five percent.  That’s almost half of all people giving their time to others. Way to go, Utah!

It’s also 19 percentage points above the national average of 26 percent, which is pretty high as it is.  When at least one in four of all people in the country volunteer, you know you have a nation that loves. 

My state Florida was fourth in the nation in total contributions and 19th by percent with giving at 4.6 percent per person on average.  People in my zip code gave 4.2 percent of their income and areas close to me gave even more. To find your own statistics go to these maps.

The religious makeup of the state made a big difference. Two of the top nine states—Utah and Idaho—have high numbers of Mormon residents and the remaining states in the top nine are all in the Bible Belt.

The pattern holds in the cities where residents of Salt Lake City, Memphis and Birmingham, Alabama, gave at least seven percent of their discretionary income to charity, while those in Boston and Providence average less than three percent. 

Secular charities benefit more greatly from people in the Northeast, who give 1.4 percent of their discretionary income to secular charities, compared with those in the South, who give 0.9 percent.

Families with the lowest income also gave a higher percentage than those that make more money.  Households that earn $50,000 to $75,000 give an average of 7.6 percent of their discretionary income to charity, while those with income of $200,000 or more gave an average of 3.9 percent. Overall, those with annual incomes of $200,000 or more—accounted for 11 percent of the tax returns and gave 41 percent of the money.

Politics also plays a role in charity.  The eight states where residents gave the highest share of income to charity voted for Republican presidential candidate John McCain in 2008.  The seven-lowest ranking states supported Barack Obama.

All in all, there were few surprises in the rankings.  These trends have largely been the same for many years. I was a little surprised that my area in particular was just at the average in giving and when I looked nearby the numbers were much higher. Let’s hope my blog might change a bit of that the next time The Chronicle of Philanthropy does a study.


  1. A very interesting breakdown. I bekkieve the UK stats are similar in that the highest percentage of a persons income is donated by those who earn less. No wonder I have no luck with writing to corporations LOL.


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