Apr 8, 2002

From the Archives

Americans Were More Generous in 2001 Than in 2000

Many non-profit organizations have reported that 2001 was an off-year for donations due to the collapse of the technology sector and the September 11 attack. However, the nationwide survey of people’s donations in the prior year, conducted each January by the Barna Research Group of Ventura, California, shows a different story. Although the nation’s economy was not as strong as during the prior two years, there was no change in the proportion of adults who donated money in 2001 and 2000. The data, taken from a new book by researcher George Barna, The State of the Church: 2002, that will be released in early May, also show that the average amount of giving by adults actually increased last year.

Four Out of Five Gave Money

Americans remain among the most generous people on earth. In 2001, four out of five adults (80%) donated money to one or more non-profit organizations. While that figure is down slightly from 1999 (84%) and 1998 (87%), it is at least on par with 2000, when 78% gave donations. The types of people most likely to give away money were those over 55 years of age, college graduates, those from households earning more than $60,000, people who attend churches of 500 or more people, and those who attend mainline Protestant churches. At least nine out of ten people from each of those segments contributed funds in 2001. The only segments among which less than seven out of ten donated any money in 2001 were atheists (63%), people who do not attend a church of any type (67%) and adults who are not registered to vote (67%).

The total amount of money given throughout the course of the year also rose. The mean for 2001 was $1097, which was a 19% jump from the prior year, and 5% higher than the 1999 average. The median donation level was $300, which has remained unchanged for the past three years. (For an explanation of means and medians, see the methodology section at the end of this report.)

Several population subgroups had mean giving totals that exceeded $1500 per person. Those groups included people 55 or older ($1537), college graduates ($1747), those from households earning more than $60,000 ($2066), evangelicals ($3601), people who attend churches of 500 or more people ($1656), and registered Republicans ($1892). There were also several segments that donated an average of less than $500 during 2001. Those groups included adults who are not registered to vote ($446 mean), individuals who do not attend a church ($456), and residents of the state of New York ($421).

Giving to Churches Improves

There was no change in the percentage of adults who donated money to churches in 2001 when compared to the prior year (62%), but there was an 18% increase in the per capita mean amount donated compared to 2000 ($769 vs. $649). The median giving remained unchanged at $100 per donor.

There were only a handful of segments for which at least 70% donated to churches in 2001. Among those groups were people 55 and older (70% of whom gave money to churches), evangelicals (88%), non-evangelical born again Christians (79%), Protestants (73%), Catholics (73%), conservatives (76%), and Republicans (77%). Church size was also related to giving: the larger the church a person attended, the more likely they were to support it. Seventy percent of those who attend a church of 100 or fewer gave to churches last year, compared to 83% of people attending churches of 101 to 499 adults and 87% among those going to churches of 500 or more adults.

Read About…American Faith is Diverse, as Shown Among Five Faith-Based Segments

The most generous church donors were evangelicals (mean gifts of $3169); Republicans ($1480); conservatives ($1459); people from households making more than $60,000 ($1302) and college graduates ($1294). People who were least generous included unchurched adults ($112) and atheists ($163).

Differences Among Subgroups

The new book, The State of the Church: 2002, identifies several significant demographic patterns related to people’s giving. Age has a noteworthy influence on giving. The younger a person is, the less likely they are to donate any money at all, to donate to a church, and the less money they donate when they do give. In terms of generations, Baby Busters (adults in the 18 to 35 age bracket) were the least generous on every count: 75% gave away money, only half gave anything to churches, the median donation to all organizations was less than $800, and their mean giving to churches was less than $600 per capita. In contrast, 83% of Baby Boomers were donors, two-thirds gave to churches, their mean total giving topped $1200, and their mean church gifts equaled $746. The most generous group were the two older generations, now 56 or older. Nine out of ten were donors, and seven out of ten gave money to churches. Their mean giving to all organizations ($1537) and to churches ($1176) was nearly double that of Busters.

In relation to all giving, other noteworthy distinctions among subgroups included the following:

  • College graduates donated more than twice as much per capita as did people with a high school education or less ($1747 versus $797, respectively).
  • Both white and black adults donated more than twice as much per capita as did Hispanic adults ($1218 by whites, $1094 by blacks, $528 by Hispanics).
  • Protestants gave away an average of 57% more money than did Catholics ($1379 compared to $878).
  • Although fewer residents of the South and the West donated money in 2001, those who did so had the highest per capita averages: $1343 among donors from the West and $1123 among those in the South versus $1040 among people in the Midwest and just $866 among people living in the Northeast.
  • Registered voters gave away more than twice as much per capita as did adults who are not registered to vote. While Democrats and Independents donated similar gross amounts, Republicans gave away over 75% more on a per capita basis.
  • Conservatives and liberals had equivalent average total gifts, but those who were moderate in their social and political views contributed about 14% less per capita.
  • Residents of California donated nearly three dollars for every dollar given by New York residents.

When the data regarding church giving were studied, additional patterns emerged.

  • People from households earning $60,000 or more annually gave three times as much money to churches, on a per capita basis, as did people from households making under $35,000.
  • White donors gave twice as much money to churches, on a per donor basis, as did Hispanic adults.
  • Evangelicals gave four times as much money, per person, to churches as did all other church donors. Evangelicals even outpaced per capita giving of non-evangelical born again Christians by nearly a three-to-one margin. People who attend religious centers that are not Christian donated about 10% less per capita than did those who attend a Christian church.
  • Protestants donated an average of $1093 to their churches in 2001. That figure was more than double the average amount given by Catholics to their churches ($495).
  • Church donations were nearly identical in the South, Midwest and West. The average per capita donations among Northeasterners was more than one-third lower.
  • Political ideology affected church giving dramatically. While the mean gifts to churches by conservatives was $1459, the mean was only $557 among moderates and even less among liberals ($406).


One of the doctrines taught by many Protestant churches is that of tithing, which means donating ten percent of one’s income. In total, one out of every 12 adults (8%) had given away at least 10% of their income last year. That was marginally above the 6% registered in 2000.

The proportion of tithers is higher among born again Christians (14% tithed) than among non-born again adults (5%).

Insights Regarding Generosity

George Barna, who directed the research for the book project, offered several conclusions. “People with the strongest convictions are the most likely to support their worldview financially,” Barna noted. “For instance, Republicans were the individuals most likely to have strong ideological leanings, and their giving levels were dramatically higher than those of others. Evangelical Christians are most likely to take the Bible at face value, and their chart-topping giving levels reflect that confidence in the accuracy and importance of Scripture. Conservatives were the most fervent about their views, and their donations average emphasizes their intensity. The same pattern held true regarding church size. People who attend large churches are disproportionately evangelical, conservative, and feel as if their church is doing significant ministry, resulting in more generous giving.”

Read About…Practical Outcomes Replace Biblical Principles As the Moral Standard

The research also shows that a substantial proportion of people’s donations are given to their church. “Among evangelicals, almost ninety cents of every donated dollar goes to their church. The proportion drops, however, as people’s spiritual intensity and commitment to Christ decline,” Barna stated. “Seventy seven cents of every donated dollar from non-evangelical born again adults is directed toward the church, compared to just sixty four cents among those who are not born again but affiliate with a Christian church. The percentage is even smaller among people who are aligned with faith groups that are not Christian.”

Barna’s forthcoming book is designed to provide a sense of how people’s faith commitments, as measured by two dozen different indicators of belief and religious behavior, have changed over the past decade. “Individuals and society glean stability and continuity from their faith commitments,” Barna commented, “but there is a lot of shifting that has occurred in the faith realm over the past decade. The breadth of research contained in The State of the Church: 2002 – through the same measures tracked, in some cases, for two decades – helps reveal those realignments.”

Research Methodology

The data described above are from telephone interviews during late January and early February with a nationwide random sample of 1006 adults. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. (The sampling error for subgroups would be higher because the sample size of those segments is smaller. There are other types of error besides sampling error that may be present in surveys.) All of the interviews were conducted from the Barna Research Group telephone interviewing facility in Ventura, CA. Adults in the 48 continental states were eligible to be interviewed and the distribution coincided with the geographic dispersion of the U.S. adult population. Multiple callbacks were used to increase the probability of including a reliable distribution of adults.

“Born again Christians” were defined in these surveys 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. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”

“Evangelicals” are a subset of born again Christians in Barna surveys. In addition to meeting the born again criteria, evangelicals also meet seven other conditions. Those include saying the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; 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; 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 has no relationship to church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church they attend. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “evangelical.”

The report mentions two types of averages. A median is based on sequentially listing all amounts from lowest to highest and selecting the amount that is in the middle of the list. A mean is based on adding the value of all of the amounts and dividing by the total number of items added. A mean is a more volatile measure because it is affected by extremes at either end of the continuum.

Survey Data
% of adults who donated
Mean amount donated to all groups
% of adults who donated to churches
Mean amount donated to churches


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.