Religious Donors Give To Secular Groups, Too

August 22, 2011       Mark Hrywna      

People who give to a religious group are almost three times more likely to give to another charity than those who do not give to religion. They will also give to more charities, according to a recent national survey by The NonProfit Times and Infogroup.

Seven of 10 people surveyed who responded they do not give to a religious group said that they give to at least another charity compared with nine out of 10 people who gave to their religious group. The numbers become more pronounced when broken down by age and household income. Frequent donors, those people giving to more than six organizations, are twice as likely to be college graduates and have household incomes of $100,000 or more, according to the data.

According to Larry May, senior vice president for strategic development in the Greenwich, Conn., office of infogroup, “There’s no exact way to find these people — there’s no list select — but these are people most likely to be responding to national organizations that reach them through some communication channel, other than personal contact.”

Of the 90 percent of people who give to other groups, three-quarters of them focus their giving on one to five charities, besides their religious group, and another 11 percent give to six to 10 charities. Just 5 percent said they give to more than 10 charities.

The telephone survey was conducted by Princeton, N.J.-based Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) between June 24 and June 27, among a national probability sample of 1,011 adults living in private households within the continental United States. Questions asked were:

• Do you belong to a religious group such as a church congregation where you make regular contributions?

• Besides your religious group, how many “favorite” charities do you support, to which you make a contribution at least once a year? Would you say: none, one to five, six to 10, or more than 10?

For those who don’t give to a religious group, they were asked, “How many ‘favorite’ charities do you support, to which you make a contribution at least once a year?,” with the same number of options.

Overall, approximately 47 percent of respondents said they make regular contributions to a religious group.

The survey results confirm similar studies, May said, such as last year’s Heart of the Donor by Russ Reid Company, as well as older surveys such as the 2002 study by Independent Sector and the National Council of Churches titled, Faith & Philanthropy: The Connection Between Charitable Behavior and Giving to Religion.

Direct response marketing for nonprofits is fundamentally asking people through direct mail to make a gift, said May. “We’re generally not the number one or number two charity in a person’s life,” he said, so they’re dependent on donors who give to five or more charities. “Those are people who provide the lion’s share of direct marketing (dollars) to charities.”

Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) in Winchester, Va., said most of the data fell in line with what the organization has been seeing over the years. “The trend toward older people involving themselves with religious charities as opposed to younger people is consistent with other studies we’ve seen about donor involvement in religious groups,” he said.

Busby said the difference between donors who give to religious groups and those who don’t might be even wider than what the results indicate. “They are more stark because those who belong to religious groups have already given very generously to their religious groups. The data says that they are giving after they have given to religious groups. When you layer that on top, it suggests some very important and significant differences,” Busby said.

For the majority of Americans, their largest giving is religious, and second is local, such as schools, hospitals or community-based organizations, said May. Each year, giving to religion tops every other category of giving in the United States, usually accounting for as much as a third of overall giving. Giving USA estimates for 2010, released last month, indicated giving to religion last year topped $100 billion, 35 percent of the total $290 billion in giving.

By a factor of better than 2-to-1, most likely the people giving to more organizations are those also giving to religious organizations. “It’s worth being aware of that when you think about who they are and what their motivations are,” said May.

“The older person we’re talking to is probably a religious person who attends services pretty regularly, and gives there, and it’s a major part of their life,” said May. “It might feel like our country is becoming more secular, but it’s not the case for these donors.”

The difference becomes more dramatic when the respondents are categorized by age. For those 65 and older who give to religion, only 6 percent said they don’t give to another group, compared to 21 percent among seniors who don’t give to religion. And for those who give to religion, 29 percent of them give to at least six charities, compared to just 13 percent among non-religious respondents. That’s extremely significant for direct marketers, May said, because that’s where donations by mail usually are generated.

A big percentage of people giving to large national nonprofits such as the American Heart Association or Disabled Veterans of America also give to their church or whatever their religious organization. Fundraisers need to be aware that the majority of their donors probably are religious people, said May, particularly those professionals who might be within the younger than 50 demographic and running fundraising programs. “When speaking to them, you have to understand them,” he said.

More than 92 percent of respondents who were 34 or older said they give in addition to their religious group. The only demographic that did not crack 90 percent was the youngest, 18- to 34-year-olds, 82 percent of whom said they give to another charity.

Just how many additional charities they give to varied. Some 86 percent of those ages 35 to 44 who give to their religious group said they also give to as many as one to five “favorite” charities at least once a year. That was the highest percentage found among age groups. All other age groups ranged from a low of 65 percent (among those 65 and older) to 78 percent (45-54 years old).

Respondents 65 and older were the highest percentage when it came to giving to six to 10 charities or more than 10 charities, in addition to religion. About 19 percent of them said they give to between six and 10 charities, compared to other age groups, which were anywhere from 6 to 12 percent. One in 10 people 65 and older said they give to more than 10 “favorite” charities, in addition to their religious group, while all other age groups were less than 10 percent, ranging from 0 to 9 percent. That means that 29 percent of those 65 and older who gave to more than their religious group, donated to at least six other charities.

By far, the age group with the largest proportion of respondents who said they don’t give to any other charities besides their religious group was 18- to 34-year-olds, with 18 percent. Other age groups ranged from 6 to 8 percent.

The survey results seem to confirm what other studies suggest about younger donors, that they’re less likely to join religious groups or congregations — at least at this point, said Jill Schumann, president and CEO of Baltimore, Md.-based Lutheran Services in America (LSA). “If that means they will have a lower overall rate of giving to nonprofits, this might be an especially important group for nonprofits to cultivate sooner rather than later,” she said.

Income and college education numbers support the same concept, said May. “There’s a tendency to stereotype those giving to religion as less wealthy or less educated, but according to this, that’s the opposite,” he said. The higher the household income, the more likely it is that someone who gives to religion also will give to at least one other favorite charity. They’re also more likely to give to more charities. Some 97 percent of respondents with household incomes of $100,000 or more, who give to their religious group said they give to another charity, with 12 percent giving to more than 10; 17 percent to between six and 10 charities, and 69 percent to one to five charities.

There was a big difference among Hispanics who said they give in addition to their religious group, with 27 percent saying they don’t give to another group, compared with 7 percent among whites and 12 percent among blacks. May wondered whether this might be some type of aberration in the data as it “didn’t make sense to me that 74 percent of Hispanics don’t give to a religious organization.”

Of the 73 percent of Hispanics that said they do give to other groups, more than half give to between one and five charities, and 20 percent give to six to 10 charities. Blacks had the highest percentage of giving to between one and five charities, 82 percent, compared to 74 percent among whites. Giving to between six and 10 charities was highest among whites, 12 percent, with 3 percent for blacks. Only about 6 percent of whites said they give to more than 10 charities, outside of religion, compared to 2 percent of blacks.

Education level seemed to be a factor in whether people belong to a religious group – but not always. About 58 percent of those who contribute regularly are college graduates, and 49 percent completed some college. The numbers drop with less education, as high school graduates comprised 41 percent of those saying yes, and those that did not complete high school, 31 percent. Among those who give elsewhere, more than nine out of 10 surveyed give to a favorite charity – except high school graduates, where 82 percent said they do.

A peculiar spike was found among those giving to more than 10 charities, in addition to their religious group. While high school and college graduates were in the single digits, among those who did not complete high school, 25 percent of those who gave said they donated to more than 10 charities, in addition to a religious organiztion.

People who don’t belong to a religious group

What about those donors who said they don’t contribute to a religious group, but give elsewhere?

Of the 70 percent of respondents who said they give to a “favorite” charity at least once a year — but do not belong to a religious group where contributions are made — almost two-thirds concentrated their giving to one to five charities. Only about 6 percent give to more than six charities (4 percent said they give to between six and 10 charities, another 2 percent to more than 10 charities).

As with donors who identify as religious givers, age becomes a factor in this giving. At least seven out of 10 people older than 35 give to a favorite charity each year (with a high of 78 percent for those 65-plus), but less than 60 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds said they do (and virtually all of them give to less than six charities).

When it comes to giving to multiple charities each year, only 55- to 64-year-olds registered in the double digits, with 12 percent of them giving to between six and 10 favorite groups. Most age groups, between 62 and 70 percent, said they give to one to five charities annually, with the youngest (18-34) again being the exception, at 58 percent.

More than half of the women surveyed (52 percent) said they give to a religious group while more like two of every five men said they did. Blacks were the only ethnicity to crack 50 percent, with 56 percent, compared to 48 percent for whites and only a quarter of Hispanics. The percentage of respondents who said yes to whether they give annually to a religious organization grew steadily as the age group got older, with the highest, 62 percent, among those 65 and older, and the lowest, 39 percent, among those 18 to 34 years old. Age groups in between ranged from 44 to 51 percent.

Similarly, the higher the education level of a respondent, the more likely they are to identify with a religious group where they make regular contributions, according to the survey. College graduates had the highest response, at 58 percent, followed by 49 percent who did not complete college, 41 percent among high school graduates, and 31 percent who did not complete high school.

Geographically, the highest percentage was found in the South, 56 percent,, followed by the Northeast, at 47 percent; Midwest, 30 percent, and West, 38 percent.

When it came to household income, the only outlier seemed to be those earning $35,000 of less. Only 39 percent of those respondents said they belong to a religious group where they make regulation contributions, but most other categories of income were near or above 50 percent. Again, among household size, it seemed there was only one that stood out, and it was the 38 percent of one-person households that said they belong, compared to 47 percent for two-person households and 49 percent for households of three or more.

If children are in the household, more than half of respondents said they belong to a religious group compared with 44 percent of those households without children. NPT

NPT staff writer Samuel J. Fanburg contributed to this report