Jun 3, 2013

From the Archives

American Donor Trends

During tax season many Americans review their 2012 finances, including a look at how much and to whom they donated money last year. In a new poll from the Barna Group, more than half of Americans said they have donated money or items (or both) to a cause they cared about during the last year. And only 13% of Americans say they haven’t donated any money to charity in the past 12 months.

Barna Access Plus

Strengthen your message, train your team and grow your church with cultural insights and practical resources, all in one place.

Those highly charitable patterns exist despite the fact that over one-third of Americans (37%) say that though they are financially stable right now, they’re just making ends meet. Another one in four adults say they are struggling to make ends meet (25%). Only one-quarter of adults consider themselves financially secure. On the extreme ends, 4% of adults report having “more than they need,” while 5% say they require financial assistance to make ends meet.

Who Gives?
The vast majority of U.S. adults donated money in 2012 to charities or churches. As might be expected, there is a correlation between how much money people make and how much money they donate. Nearly 7 in 10 American adults (69%) making $60,000 or more of household income say they donated money over the last year, compared with less than half of people (45%) in households making less than $40,000.

About half of adults (51%) donated items they owned to causes they believed in over the last year. Older people—aged 45 or more—are less likely to have donated items (48%) than people who are younger than 45 who donated items at an average of 54%. People making over $60,000 are most likely to donate their time as a volunteer—nearly half of adults (47%) in that income bracket have done so.

Religious Identification and Giving
A person’s religious identification has a lot to do with whether or not they donate to causes they believe in. Evangelicals were far and away the group most likely to donate money, items or time as a volunteer. More than three-quarters of evangelicals (79%) have donated money in the last year, and 65% and 60% of them have donated items or volunteer time, respectively. Additionally, only 1% of evangelicals say they made no charitable donation in the last 12 months. Comparatively, 27% of those with a faith other than Christianity say they made no charitable donation in the last year—a number more than double the national rate (13%). One-fifth of people who claimed no faith said they made no donation over the last year, still noticeably higher than the number for all Americans.

Interestingly, the difference between evangelical Christians and non-evangelical born again Christians was marked. While 79% of evangelicals made a financial donation over the last year, 53% of non-evangelical born agains said the same. The number of non-evangelical born again Christians who didn’t make a donation matches the national average exactly (13%), compared to the only 1% of evangelicals.

How Much … and Where?
So it’s apparent the majority of Americans donate to causes they support. But how much do Americans give on average? And where does all of the money go?

More than half of donors (55%) say they donated an amount of $500 or less. Specifically, roughly one in five (22%) noted the total value of their donations as $100 or less, while 33% gave between $100 and $500, 20% donated a total value of $500 up to $1,000, 12% contributed between $1,000 and $2,500, 8% offered $2,500 up to $5,000, and 5% estimated their donated total as more than $5,000.

So where do these charitable contributions go? Americans support non-profit organizations and churches in nearly equal proportions. Of those who donated in the past 12 months, 45% say a non-profit organization received most of their donations, while 43% gave primarily to a church. Only 1 in 14 adults who donated last year (7%) gave most of their funds to a school, while only 4% contributed mostly to a cultural organization.

As might be expected, about two-thirds of evangelicals (66%) who make charitable donations give to their church. Evangelicals are also the least likely (28%) to donate to a non-profit organization. Comparatively—and again, probably expectedly—donors who are atheists or agnostics are more likely to donate to a non-profit organization (82%) than to a church (4%).

Twice as many atheists and agnostics (40%) donated a relatively small amount (under $100), compared to all donating adults (20%). Evangelical Christians are among the faith groups that donate the most: they are much more likely than average (26% compared to the national average of 7%) to have contributed either $2,500-$5,000, or more than $10,000 (6% compared to 1%) last year.

Tithing Rates
Tithing remained stable in 2012, though at the lower end of the typical range. The research shows that 5% of adults qualify as having tithed—giving 10% or more of their annual income to a church or non-profit organizations. In 2009, before the financial crisis, tithing was 7%, then dipped to 4% in 2010 and 2011. (Note: Barna calculates this “tithing” rate based on total giving divided by household income, not by asking survey respondents to estimate percentages.) Among born again Christians, which includes both evangelicals and non-evangelicals, 12% tithed in 2012, which is on par with the average for the past decade.

The Psychology of “Having Enough”
It’s not just how much Americans actually make that impacts their giving—it’s also how they feel about how much they make. How a person views their financial situation varies by age and annual household income and has a lot to do with how much people give. As expected, Americans making more money ($60,000) are more likely to say they are financially secure or have more than they need and those making the least (under $40,000) are most likely to report needing assistance. Those in between say they are “secure, but just making ends meet.”

Surprisingly, those under 45 years of age are actually more likely than average to say they are financially stable. And evangelical Christians seem to be the most content financially (regardless of household income); they are more likely to feel they have more money than they need (14% compared to 6% or less in each other faith segment), and less likely to feel they are struggling.

As you might expect, adults who say they are struggling to make ends meet are more likely to donate smaller amounts (under $100), while those who are financially stable but just making ends meet are willing to give slightly more (between $100 and $500). Those who feel financially “at ease” give the most—those rating themselves as financially secure are more likely than average to contribute between $500 and $5,000, while those who say they have more than they need are inclined to donate amounts exceeding $5,000.

What the Research Means
David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, put the findings in context. “First, it’s good news that Americans remain generous and the levels of giving have shown a slight uptick from 2011. Churches and non-profit organizations are not out of the woods, but there are some signs of stability and a glimmer of hope among donors.

“Second, evangelical Christians exhibit some of the most contentment with their personal financial status. And evangelicals are not necessarily richer or poorer than are other Americans; they just generally have a more developed sense of financial self-worth. Year after year, this group remains one of the most generous segments and, for evangelicals, it does not seem connected to how much they make.

“Finally, most American donors still give when they feel content and ready to give. For most Americans, giving is a luxury or a nice thing to do, but not typically viewed as a necessity. While the economy and donor outlook continue to show signs of improvement, it would be a tragedy if donors did not reevaluate the overall basis of their giving—that it’s not just an extra thing to do or for the tax benefits, but rediscovering the truest meaning of generosity.”

Barna Access Plus

Strengthen your message, train your team and grow your church with cultural insights and practical resources, all in one place.

About the Research
This report is based on an OmniPollSM study conducted by telephone with landlines and cellphone users. In all, 1,005 interviews were completed. The maximum margin of sampling error for a study of this size is estimated to be within plus or minus 3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Interviews were conducted from January 16 to January 22, 2013 with 1,005 adults 18 or older in the continental U.S. Based upon U.S. Census data sources, regional and ethnic quotas were designed to ensure that the final group of adults interviewed reflected the distribution of adults nationwide. Statistical weighting was used to calibrate the sample to known population percentages in relation to demographic variables.

“Evangelicals” meet the born again criteria (described below) plus seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church attended. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “evangelical.”

“Non-evangelical born again Christians” are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. These adults are born again, but do not meet the additional evangelical criteria.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

Get Barna in your inbox

Subscribe to Barna’s free newsletters for the latest data and insights to navigate today’s most complex issues.