Study: 60% of U.S. Households Routinely Give to Charity

January 24, 2008 — About six in 10 U.S. households contribute to charity routinely, according to new findings from the Center on Philanthropy Panel Study released by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

The ongoing survey asked the same 8,000 families about their charitable gifts made in 2000, 2002 and 2004. While the total percentage of households that gave was similar in all three years (67% to 69%), it was not always the same households. The study found that a fairly large proportion of all U.S. households—nearly one third—shift between donating and not donating.

Because the Center on Philanthropy Panel Study (COPPS) asks the same families about their giving in different years, for the first time researchers can determine the proportion of people nationwide who switch back and forth between giving and not giving.

"Nonprofits' ability to encourage donors to keep giving is vital to raising needed funds. Finding that a sizeable portion of people who give in one year do not make any gifts at all the following year opens the door to greater understanding of the factors that influence people’s giving, and what causes those behaviors to change." said Eugene R. Tempel, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

"The more we understand these factors, the more we can help donors, nonprofits and policy makers understand philanthropy and their roles in shaping it," Tempel added. "We will continue to examine the COPPS data in greater detail to ascertain motivations for changes in giving."

Center researchers found that 56% of households gave donations in each of the three years. Another three in 10 households (29%) contributed to charity in some but not all years studied. Just under 15% did not contribute at all in any of the years studied.

The study found a large difference in amounts given by households who give routinely and those who give intermittently. Persistent donors, those who gave in each of the three survey years, made total charitable gifts averaging $2,659 in 2004. Occasional donors (who gave in one or two of the three years and who donated in 2004) contributed an average of $820.

These and other COPPS findings about giving in 2004 represent the latest nationally representative information about annual household giving available. The Center on Philanthropy Panel Study is the largest and most accurate study of charitable giving by U.S. households over time ever conducted.

Overall, 68% of U.S. households donated $25 or more to charity in 2004, the most recent year for which household giving data are available. Among households that gave, the average total amount given in 2004 was $2,045.

"The new data also give us important insights into the ways in which people give, such as the fact that the average donor household gives money to two or three different types of nonprofits," said Patrick M. Rooney, director of research for the Center on Philanthropy. "About 45% of households give to religious organizations such as houses of worship, while 60% give to secular organizations and 37% give to both types."

Other key findings about giving in 2004 include:
  • The largest percentage of households gave to religion, donating an average of $1,858.
  • 28% gave to meet others’ basic needs, giving $482 on average.
  • 27% made contributions totaling an average of $502 to "combined purposes" such as United Way, Jewish federations, and other charities that raise funds to redistribute to a variety of recipient organizations.
  • 23% donated to health causes, giving an average of $257.
  • Just over 24% of households gave in late 2004 or in 2005 for relief efforts related to the 2004 Asian tsunami, with an average gift of $121.
  • Higher income donor households, those with incomes of $100,000 or more, give a lower percentage of their income on average (2.2% of income) than do those with incomes under $50,000, who give 4.2% of their income.
  • However, higher income households are more likely to give: 93% of higher income households reported donations of $25 or more to charity, compared to 56% of lower income households.
COPPS is conducted every two years (beginning in 2001) in conjunction with the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), a landmark recurring survey by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research initiated in 1968. COPPS data and analysis help the nonprofits that depend on charitable giving understand how and why people give and strengthen their operations to raise vital resources to meet human needs and enhance the quality of life in communities. They also allow policy makers to evaluate the potential impact of tax law changes that could stimulate or hinder giving by changing tax rates, tax brackets, or the types of donations that can be deducted from income taxes.