Acton Institute Powerblog

Most Americans Donate Little or Nothing to Charity

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generosityMost Americans believe that it is very important for them to be a generous person. Yet almost half did not give to charity in the past year, and less than a quarter gave more than $500.

That’s the latest findings in a new Science of Generosity survey. An even more disconcerting discovery is that quarter of Americans were neutral on the importance of generosity and 10 percent disagreed that generosity was not a very important quality.

As David Briggs of the Association of Religion Data Archives notes,

What we end up with is a nation where a relatively few people give freely and abundantly, while most of us give little or nothing, Patricia Snell Herzog and Heather E. Price report in their new book, “American Generosity: Who Gives and Why.”

The two researchers, co-investigators with the Science of Generosity Initiative at the University of Notre Dame, delve into the survey findings and scores of personal interviews to present a portrait of the state of American giving.

It is often not an attractive picture.

Another surprising result is that many Americans living below the poverty line (about 30 percent) tend to rather generous.

Those most in need were twice as likely as non-poor Americans to donate up to 1 percent of their income. For contributions above 1 percent, there were no differences in the percentage of income given for people above and below the poverty level.

The findings demonstrate “the tremendous generosity that can be found among those with the least financial resources and the overall thinness of generosity among many with more financial resources,” Herzog and Price state.

The results also illustrate a wide divide in our understanding of and empathy for those most in need.

People in poverty have firsthand knowledge of their day-to-day struggles, which often involve choices such as putting food on the table vs. paying the rent. So they are aware that giving even a little can make a huge difference in the lives of their neighbors.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • Steve Vinzinski

    Joe those numbers shocked me.Fifty per cent gave nothing and less than a quarter gave under $500.00.I believe that with all these new items the likes of smart phones some families have monthly bills of over $700.00.That figure is not unheard of but fairly common.Some cable bills are $500.00 a month many buy about every extra they can find.I see children competing motor bike races at six years old those bikes can cost upwards to $5000.00.Fast food can kill you budget many live pay check to pay check.It is obvious there is no money for charity.

  • Dhaniele

    This article leaves out a very important question and I suspect it was not investigated as there is no mention of it here. Many Americans give to their churches or other religious institutions knowing that their own community will support the kind of charitable activities that they themselves support. I cannot remember them all, but a lot of these churches have quite extensive programs for the needy. There comes to mind that back in the last administration, the government actually linked up with church administered programs because they were seen as more efficient and cost effective than other organizations.

    • DD

      Your post reminded me a thread on another blog where people were discussing charitable giving. The usual atheist/agnostic trolls were confronted with evidence that atheists give much less to charity than religious people do, so the trolls claimed that donating to one’s church isn’t “real” charity, since it means the members are just donating to benefit themselves. It’s really amazing how ignorant the American public is of the charitable work done by America’s churches.