News and analysis
September 24, 2015

Donors Don't Always Give to Causes They Care About Most, Study Finds

The Chicago Community Trust celebrated its 100th birthday this year and invited community members to share a meal and discuss philanthropy.

People sometimes don’t give their time or money to the issues that concern them the most, according to a new report from the Chicago Community Trust.

The report, released last week, came out of the trust’s 100th anniversary celebration in May. As part of the event, called On the Table, the organization asked local residents to share a meal with someone else to discuss their philanthropy. Nearly 25,000 people did so. Afterward, the community trust sent out a survey to ask people about their attitudes toward giving.

More than half of the roughly 2,000 people who responded to a question about their top concerns named economic issues and poverty. Nearly 40 percent named the judicial system and public safety, and nearly 40 percent named education and youth development. (Respondents could pick more than one topic.)

However, only 15 percent said they contribute time or money to economic and poverty causes, and 9 percent contribute to judicial and public-safety causes.

When it came to education and youth development, the charitable giving was a closer match: About 40 percent reported contributing to such causes.

Nearly three-fourths of survey respondents reported sharing a meal with someone they didn't previously know.

The complexity of economic and public-safety problems may prohibit people from getting involved with efforts to address them, the authors of the report wrote, and people may lack awareness of how to make a difference in those areas.

Also revealed by the report: the powerful influence peer-to-peer and workplace relationships can have on campaigns. Two-thirds of respondents participated because of a personal invitation, and of those, 57 percent were invited by a colleague.

A similar event, 2014, was designed to generate ideas for improving Chicago. The goal this year was to ask "folks to be a little more upfront about what it is they do and how they act as part of the community" and to highlight "the idea that we are all philanthropists and we are all receivers," said Cheryl Hughes, senior director of strategic initiatives at the Chicago Community Trust.

Another goal was to build relationships: About 72 percent of survey respondents reported that they shared a meal for the event with people they didn’t know before. A little more than half said they exchanged contact information with a new connection.

Send an e-mail to Rebecca Koenig.