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Giving Jumps When Tied To Religion, Study Shows

By Patrick Sullivan - November 26, 2013

Some 41 percent of all U.S. donations go to religious congregations. That number jumps to 73 percent when religiously-linked nonprofits such as Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army and Jewish federations are included. Those are some results from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University study called “Connected to Give: Faith Communities.”

The study, carried out by the Lilly School in conjunction with Los Angeles, Calif. nonprofit research lab Jumpstart and GBA Strategies in Washington, D.C., is the third of six reports. It surveyed 4,862 American households of various religious traditions.

Four out of five Americans identify themselves with a particular religion. Of those, 65 percent give to congregations or charities. Of those who do not identify with a religion, 56 percent give. “The 9-point difference is due largely to contributions from (religiously) affiliated Americans to organizations with religious ties,” wrote the study’s authors.

“It’s like putting on 3-D glasses,” said one of the study’s authors, Shawn Landres, Ph.D., CEO and research director of Jumpstart, via a statement from the Lilly School. “In addition to looking at congregations, when we also look at the religious identity of the organization and the religious or spiritual orientation of the donor, it turns out that a majority of Americans contribute to organizations with religious ties and a majority of Americans cite religious commitments as key motivations for their giving.”

Almost two-thirds, or 63 percent, of Americans gave to congregations or charitable organizations in 2012, with a median gift of $660. Congregations saw the highest median gift at $375. The median gift to not religiously identified organizations (NRIOs) was greater than that of religiously identified organizations (RIOs), at $250 to $150.

“When it comes to religious identity and giving, demographic categories like income and age resist generalization,” wrote the report’s authors. While the report says that religious denomination alone does not affect giving, other factors help shape rates of giving among the denominations, according to the authors. Jews give at the highest rate to religious and charitable denominations, at 76 percent. Christians — black Protestants, Evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics — all give at similar rates, between 61 percent and 68 percent. Those identifying as not religiously affiliated give at the lowest rate, 46 percent.

More Americans mix up their giving between RIOs and NRIOs at 38 percent than those who give to strictly one or the other. Only 5 percent give just to RIOs and 14 percent give to only NRIOs. Donors give to both RIOs and NRIOs for combined purposes, international aid, basic needs, neighborhoods and communities, civic, and youth and family causes. Donors supporting health care, education, environment and the arts prefer NRIOs as the recipients for their donations.

Those Americans who rate religion as very important (41 percent) or somewhat important (25 percent) give at a higher rate than those who do not consider themselves religious (22 percent). Almost three-quarters (74 percent) of the very religious and 60 percent of the somewhat religious give, as opposed to 52 percent of nonreligious Americans.

More than half of Americans who give, or 55 percent, said that religion is an important or very important motivation for charitable giving. Other common motivations include believing they can make a change through giving (57 percent) and thinking they should help others who have less (55 percent).

“To be sure, the importance of religious orientation in giving to congregations long has been established,” wrote the authors of the report. “However, this report offers not only clear evidence of a powerful presence for RIOs, but also every indication of the importance of such organizations. Moreover, the religious identification of charitable organizations matters not just to religious donors, but to other donors as well.”

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