What motivates people to give?
In Barna’s latest release, The Giving Landscape—the first of several journals created in partnership with Gloo and a collective of other partners as part of The State of Generosity series—brand new data highlights the reasons why U.S. adults and practicing Christians choose to give.
People Give Because of Who They Are
In this study, givers are defined as U.S. adults who say they have donated any amount of money to charitable organizations, including churches or houses of worship, in the past year.* Sixty percent of U.S. adults and 90 percent of practicing Christians fall into this category.
When it comes to what leads people to give their money to charitable organizations, for some U.S. adults the nature of the request matters. People might give because of the ministry (6%) or the person (8%) who asks them to, or the reason (11%) or way (7%) they are asked. But most of the time—in fact, for a striking 69 percent of adults—people say they give because of who they are. For U.S. adults who are practicing Christians (77%), this deeply individualized response is even more common.
That’s a bold statement: People give because of who they are. It feels elemental to their identity and personhood.
True Generosity Is “Selfless,” According to U.S. Adults
When Barna asked U.S. adults to select adjectives to complete the sentence, we observed a natural divide in the responses. Between one-fifth and one-third of adults speak of true generosity as something personal, defined by the emotion or outcome. (After all, they give because of who they are!) Some examples: True generosity is “always” selfless (32%), driven by compassion (30%), impactful for the receiver (30%) or giver (27%), a response to Christ’s love (28%) or, quite simply, an attitude (22%). Givers themselves remain close to the national average in describing generosity this way.
Among the less common responses, however, we see adults speak of generosity as a behavior. One-fifth or fewer describe generosity in terms of the task of giving, such as “always” being a discipline (18%), a duty (17%), a sacrifice (17%) or a planned (14%) or spur-of-the-moment (12%) gift.
Practicing Christians largely align with these perspectives of generosity, following the same pattern as all U.S. adults but in even higher proportions. They especially stand out on one point: The majority of practicing Christians (60%) says true generosity is always a response to Christ’s love, making this their top response.
But Barna was also curious how adults might describe their own generosity. What are the qualities of their giving?
One of the most defining attributes of U.S. adults’ giving, it seems, is that it is local—indeed, nearly half (48%) say this true, while just 17 percent share that their giving is global. They lean toward describing their giving as proactive (47%) and private (42%), but are largely neutral (45%) on whether their giving could be called sacrificial or convenient. Though percentages vary, the pattern of response holds when looking only at practicing Christians or when filtering out adults who aren’t actually engaged in charitable giving.
A theme emerges: Financial generosity is something kept close. It tends to be intentional, private, in proximity—personal.
About the Research
About the Research
The Giving Landscape data: A qualitative survey of 2,016 U.S. adults, conducted from November 12–19, 2021. The margin of error for the sample is +/- 2 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.
Researchers used an online panel for data collection and observed a quota random sampling methodology. Quotas were set to obtain a minimum readable sample by a variety of demographic factors and samples were weighted by region, ethnicity, education, age and gender to reflect their natural presence in the American population (using U.S. Census Bureau data for comparison).
*As this data was collected in November 2021, it does not account for year-end giving.
© Barna Group, 2022.
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.
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