Acton Institute Powerblog

Patterns of Philanthropy

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“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48 NIV).

When Bank of America Philanthropic Management noticed that “the wealthiest 3% of American households responsible for nearly two-thirds of charitable giving,” it decided to study philanthropic giving. (The top 5% paid 54.4% of taxes in 2003.)

Passed on by Don’t Tell the Donor, “Bank of America today released the initial results of the most comprehensive survey to-date of the philanthropic behavior of wealthy Americans. The Bank of America High Net-Worth Philanthropy Study was conducted by The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University for Bank of America.”

Among the key findings:

  • “Giving back” is more important than “leaving a legacy”
  • There is a surprising correlation between donations of time and dollars
  • Wealthy donors report that even major tax policy changes would not impact their giving
  • Entrepreneurs are especially generous donors
  • Charitable giving increased over the last five years
  • Wealthy donors support a broader array of causes

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Dean Ohlman

    Regarding philanthropy, it would be interesting to know how much “philanthropy” is merely putting money into causes that are likely to provide even more rewards to the donor?

    Since Acton helps soothe the consciences of conservatives about letting the supposed “trickle down” factor bless the poor and disenfranchised, instead of giving directly to those who need it, their “philanthropy” earns them psychological dividends when they donate to Acton.

    Heirs to the Amway fortunes, for instance, are far more likely to give to Acton in regard to environmental legislation than they are to the Sierra Club. The reason is in part because they want Acton to do all it can to “educate” conservatives in libertarian, laissez-faire economics and reduce the efforts of environmental groups to compel business and industry to spend money on environmentally sound business and manufacturing practices.

    Philanthropy is not necessarily compassion in action. It will often, if not mostly, be an investment in entities that promise rewards of some kind to the donor.

    Look at who the givers are and note who they give to — then connect the dots.

    Yes, power corrupts. And the greatest power is often in the hands of wealthy “philanthropists” who with their money put the lawmakers in office.

  • Thanks for the link.