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Has Americans' Charity Waned Since 9/11?

Has Americans' Charity Waned Since 9/11?

by Dennis Welch

John Wesley, the British theologian and cofounder of Methodism, said, "Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can." Wesley would be proud to know that many Americans are taking his advice to heart and donating their time and money to charitable organizations.

Gallup's latest annual Lifestyle survey*, conducted in December 2003, tells the story of a people who give, even in times of relative economic uncertainty. Eighty-two percent of Americans told Gallup they had given money to a charitable cause in the last 12 months, just a modest decline from the 86% who said so in December 2001. The most recent number includes 60% who donated money to a religious charity or organization, and 71% who donated money to any non-religious charity or organization (many Americans donate to both types of charities). It appears easier for Americans to donate money than time -- 59% of Americans donated their time to a charitable cause, including 42% who did so for a religious organization and 43% who did so for any other charity.

The Gift of Life

Americans are generous with their money and time, but what about their blood? Here the numbers are considerably lower: Only 15% of Americans said they had given blood in the last year, down slightly from the 21% who said they gave in 2001. The 2001 poll was conducted a few months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which may explain why the level was higher two years ago.

The Size of the Pocketbook

As one might expect, there is a linear relationship between income level and whether one has given money to a charitable cause. Ninety-five percent of Americans with annual household incomes of $75,000 or more said they had donated money to a charitable cause, compared with 72% of Americans making less than $30,000 annually. Less intuitive is the fact that the same type of relationship also exists between income level and time given to charitable causes -- those with lower household incomes are less likely than those with higher incomes to have donated time to charitable causes.

Similar income patterns appear when Americans are asked about monetary donations to religious organizations -- but here individuals' degree of religiosity must also be taken into account. Almost 9 in 10 Americans who attend church or synagogue weekly said they made financial donations to a religious group or organization in the last year, while fewer than one in three Americans who infrequently attend donated money to a religious group. Religiosity doesn't seem to have the same effect with giving to other, non-religious charitable causes; weekly churchgoers aren't far more likely than infrequent churchgoers to have donated money or time to a non-religious charitable cause.

Bottom Line

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the airwaves were filled with story after story of amazing heroism and altruism. Citizens lined up to give blood, and donated their money and time to help victims and their families. An exceptional year for charitable giving, right? Remarkably, no. With a few exceptions, Gallup's charitable giving numbers for 2001 closely mirror those of 2003.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,011 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 11-14, 2003. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

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