Majority of Household Giving Goes to Groups With Religious Ties, Study Finds

Nearly three-quarters, or 73 percent, of household donations to charities are made to congregations or religiously identified organizations, a study conducted by Jumpstart and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy finds.

According to Connected to Give: Faith Communities (32 pages, PDF), contributions of cash, assets, and goods or property to religious congregations account for 41 percent of household giving in dollar terms, while 32 percent of household donation go to religiously identified organizations (RIOs) such as Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, World Vision, and Jewish federations. The report also found that Americans are as likely to give to organizations with religious ties (53 percent) as to those without (55 percent).

The study examined three factors that influence whether a person donates to a specific organization — organizational mission, whether the organization is religiously identified, and the donor's religious or spiritual orientation — and found that giving to religiously identified groups plays a larger role in some subsectors than in others. For example, 66 percent of donors to basic human needs organizations give at least in part to RIOs working in that area, while only 42 percent of donors to environmental causes do so.

The report provides breakdowns by age, household income, motivation, and purpose of giving across the five largest religious groups in the United States — Black Protestant, Evangelical Protestant, Jewish, Mainline Protestant, and Roman Catholic — as well as Americans not affiliated with a religious tradition. The study found no statistically significant difference in rates of giving by religious affiliation, except that Jewish donors gave at lower rates to a congregation. The study also found that rates of giving to RIOs were similar across age groups, while giving to congregations and non-RIOs increased with age; and that 55 percent of Americans were driven to give through their commitment to their religious affiliation.

"Much of what has previously been thought of one-dimensionally as giving to 'secular' purposes actually goes to religiously identified organizations," said Mark Ottoni-Wilhelm, professor of economics and philanthropic studies at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and a co-author of the report. "The implications are clear for all types of charitable organizations, whether or not they have religious ties: they should pay attention to the religious orientations of their donors. Religiously identified organizations may wish to find ways to connect with non-religious donors who share an interest in their charitable purpose. And organizations that think of themselves as non-sectarian may find that many of their donors have strong faith-based motivations to support their work."

"Nearly Three-Quarters of Household Charitable Giving Goes to Organizations With Religious Ties, New Study Finds." Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy Press Release 11/25/2013.