NPT and infogroup national donor poll

March 1, 2011       Paul Clolery      

More than half of the money given to charity by Americans goes to religion, even though it ranks fourth when donors are asked which type of organization actually needs the money. They see education as the top priority but don’t back up their words with their giving.

According to a national survey by The NonProfit Times and infogroup/Nonprofit, religion ranks fourth behind education, health and civic organizations when Americans were asked which type of organization is most in need of financial help right now. When The NonProfit Times asked the exact question in 1992, religion finished third behind education and health groups.The complete list for 2010 was: education, 35 percent; health, 24 percent; civic or community, 12 percent; religion, 9 percent; overseas crisis/relief, 8 percent; environmental organizations, 7 percent; political organizations, 1 percent; other, none and don’t know totaled 4 percent. Percentages were rounded up to reach 100.

By comparison, for 1992 the numbers were: education, 33.6 percent; health, 27.3; religion, 9.4; environmental, 7.5 percent; civic or community, 6.8 percent; overseas/relief, 4.2 percent; political, 2.8 percent; other, none and don’t know totaled 8.4 percent.

But when you examine the Giving USA numbers, the annual compilation of American philanthropy, religion has received more than one-third of giving by individuals in all of those years from 1992 through 2009. For 2009, that number was $100.95 billion, compared to $77.9 billion in 1992.

When it comes to education, giving was $19.88 billion in 1992 and $40 billion in 2009, just 19.7 percent and 17.6 percent, respectively, of what was given to religious causes.

As for those who answered education in 1992, it was a nearly evenly split between women (50.8 percent) and men (49.2 percent). The percentage break this past December was 56.8 percent female and 43 percent male, which correlated to the increase in the number of females graduating from higher education institutions.

Female respondents in 1992 were more likely to answer religion than men (58.6 to 41.4 percent) as well as education (50.8 compared to 49.2). The most recent responses show 46.8 percent of those who answered religion were female versus 53.3 percent men.

People who answered religion in the 1992 survey were more likely to have a household income of less than $40,000 (66.5 percent) with 16.2 percent reporting income of more than $60,000. Fully one-third (33.9 percent) of those who answered education had household income of $40,000 or more. In the more recent survey 43.1 percent of those who found religion as important had incomes of $50,000 or more.

“I think a lot of this is people saying one thing and doing another,” said Larry May, senior vice president for strategy of infogroup/nonprofit. “How many people actually give to their colleges? It’s a very small number.”

In fact, according to the Council for Aid to Education in New York City, the number to which May was referring for alumni giving is just 10 percent for 2009.

The exact question was: “I’m going to mention some types of nonprofit organizations. In general, which one of these types of organizations do you think is most in need of financial help right now?”

Melissa Brown, former editor of Giving USA and now a philanthropic consultant in Indianapolis, said there is some wiggle room for answers based on how the questions were posed. “Asking about which organizations are in need of financial support, is not the same as asking,”which one do you most want to support’ or even”which one do you think does the most important work in the world.’ It is really asking,”which one is in such bad financial shape that you notice?’ I could argue that people perceive that congregations are not in need of financial support because something like 45 percent of the population gives to a religious charity.”

She suggested, “This might be why less than 10 percent advance religious organizations in response to the question. They know they and most of their friends are giving to a religious group and probably that is the bulk of their charitable giving, so the funding stream at that organization, at least, is comparatively secure.”

Unlike congregations, schools get little philanthropic support and a lot of ink and air time because of poor results or poor conditions, she said. “This is often attributed to failing budgets, at least these days,” she said. The period when the question was first asked was the ebbing of a recession and the start of a presidential election cycle that keyed on education so it was on people’s minds, Brown said.

Giving to education might not be what people think, either. “Higher education, of course, gets the bulk of the very largest gifts, but frankly, lots of that is for medical work. Broad (Institute), (Bill and Melinda) Gates (Foundation), David Geffen and others are only some of the donors who have given to university hospitals or medical schools,” she said.

The racial breakdown when it came to education changed during the period, with 68 percent of the people who answered education being white in 1992 versus 61.1 percent now. Hispanic respondents increased during the period, from 11.2 percent to 17.6 percent. African-American responders were at 14 percent in 1992 and 12.7 percent now.

People’s perceptions about the financial needs of health charities might be influenced by media coverage and people’s personal experiences of health care generally as the single largest source of rising prices in the U.S., Brown said. People change

An interesting element of the results is how people have changed as they age. For example, the members of the 28-46 age group in 1992 aged and are now 45 to 64. People now 45 to 64 in the survey are more likely to see religion as needing financial report than people in that generation did 18 years ago. In 1992, 7 percent picked religion; in 2010, 10 percent did.

The percentages across the two surveys are similar for education and health, but the environment is less likely to be picked in 2010 (just 4 percent) compared with in 1992 by people in same age cohort, when 8 percent identified environment.

Most strikingly, according to Brown, civic and community organizations in 1992 were selected as most in need of financial support by 6 percent of the people then aged 28 to 46. People in that generation, now 46 to 54, were much more likely to pick this type of charity in 2010, with 16 percent identifying civic and community organizations as needing financial support. NPT

infogroup chart

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