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Religious Giving Down, Other Charity Holding Steady

Religious Giving Down, Other Charity Holding Steady

Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • 52% of Americans donated to religious charities in 2017
  • Down from a peak of 64% in 2005
  • Little change in percentage who donated to charities overall

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Slightly more than half of Americans (52%) say they have donated money to a religious charity over the past year, down 12 percentage points from the high of 64% who said they did so in 2005. At the same time, reported donations to secular charitable organizations have held steady at or near 75%.

Graph 1

The latest results come from Gallup's Dec. 4-11 survey of 1,049 U.S. adults. Gallup has asked Americans about their donations and volunteering for religious and other charitable organizations intermittently since 2001.

Donations to religious charities were steady from 2001 to 2005, but have trended steadily downward since. The 12-point decline in religious charitable donations between 2005 and 2017 mirrors the 11-point decline in the percentage of Americans who say they are a member of a church or synagogue (64% in 2005 to 53% today).

Volunteering Up Modestly

Currently, 44% of Americans say they have volunteered for a religious organization within the past 12 months. Volunteering with secular charities has trended up modestly, rising from 43% in 2003 to 51% this year. Unlike the slide in religious donations, the percentage of Americans who report volunteering for a religious organization has increased slightly since 2001, although the rate has been fairly flat since 2005, hovering at or near 43%.

Graph 2

Little Change in Americans' Overall Charitable Activity

Americans' total involvement with religious and secular charities has been steady over the past decade, with more than eight in 10 consistently reporting since 2008 that they donate to a church or other charitable cause and nearly two in three saying they volunteer their time. Longer term, the percentage donating money is down slightly -- from 86% in Gallup's initial measurement in 2001 -- while the percentage volunteering their time has edged up slightly from 60%.

graph 4

High Earners, Highly Educated Most Likely to Donate Money, Time

Americans with an annual household income of $75,000 or more are perhaps unsurprisingly the most likely to donate to a religious or other charitable cause, with more than nine in 10 (93%) saying they have done so in the past 12 months. An equal percentage of the most highly educated U.S. adults (those with a college degree or postgraduate education) also say they have donated to a charitable cause -- religious or secular -- in the past year.

Highly educated Americans are also most likely to say they have volunteered their time to charitable causes, with more than three-quarters (77%) saying they have done so. About the same proportion of upper-income U.S. adults, 76%, report volunteering. There is a strong relationship between education and income, likely explaining why the two groups report similar levels of charitable activity.

Americans' Charitable Activity Over the Past 12 Months
Donations and volunteering for religious or other charitable causes
Net donated money Net volunteered time
% %
Men 80 60
Women 87 69
18-34 74 63
35-54 85 72
55+ 89 58
<$30,000 69 56
$30,000-<$75,000 86 59
$75,000+ 93 76
Less than high school 72 44
High school grad 74 56
Some college 88 69
College grad 93 77
Protestant/Christian (nonspecific) 86 70
Catholic 81 61
None/Atheist/Agnostic 82 51
Gallup, Dec. 4-11, 2017

There is little difference among self-identified atheists, Protestants and Catholics in the percentage donating to charitable groups. However, atheists are substantially less likely than Protestants and Catholics to report volunteering their time to charitable organizations. Atheists and Protestants report similar levels of volunteering with secular charities (50% vs. 49%, respectively). However, 85% of atheists say they have not volunteered with a religious charity in the past 12 months, while nearly six in 10 Protestants (58%) say they have.


Bottom Line

Donations to religious charities have declined along with Americans' membership in churches and synagogues, but overall charitable activity has been high and steady. This may reflect a strong cultural norm for Americans to help others, not to mention the incentive provided by the tax-free status of many charities. While there has not been a substantial change in the percentage of Americans who say they have donated, it is possible the amounts donated have changed along with the economic times.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 4-11, 2017, with a random sample of 1,049 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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