News and analysis
November 25, 2013

Religious Americans Give More, New Study Finds

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The more important religion is to a person, the more likely that person is to give to a charity of any kind, according to new research released today.

Among Americans who claim a religious affiliation, the study said, 65 percent give to charity. Among those who do not identify a religious creed, 56 percent make charitable gifts.

About 75 percent of people who frequently attend religious services gave to congregations, and 60 percent gave to religious charities or nonreligious ones. By comparison, fewer than half of people who said they didn’t attend faith services regularly supported any charity, even a even secular one.

“If your goal is to connect with donors, it’s clear that one of the things that matters to them is their religious orientation,” says Shawn Landres, Jumpstart’s chief executive and a co-author of the report.

The study of more than 4,800 American households, which covers members of five major religious denominations and people who are unaffiliated with any faith, was derived from two national surveys on giving compiled this year and analyzed by Jumpstart, a nonprofit research group, and researchers at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. The report used data from two surveys: the National Study of American Religious Giving and the National Study of American Jewish Giving.

Among the findings:

• Giving rates among black Protestants, evangelical Protestants, Jews, mainline Protestants—which include Episcopalians, members of the United Methodist Church, Presbyterians, and some Lutherans—and Roman Catholics were about the same. However, while roughly half of all members of the other faith groups contribute to religious congregations, only 37 percent of Jews did the same.

• American households donated a median $375 to congregations, $150 to religiously identified nonprofits, and $250 to secular charities in 2012.

• Black Protestants, followed by Roman Catholics and Jews, were the most likely to give out of the desire to help the needy.

• The three most popular charitable causes for all households regardless of religious affiliation were, in descending order: basic social services, “combined purpose” organizations (like United Way), and health care.

The study also looked at how much money went not only to congregations but also to charities with religious identities but secular missions. It shows that religious giving is sweeping: Forty-one percent of all charitable gifts from households last year went to congregations, while 32 percent went to other nonprofits with a religious identity and 27 percent went to secular charities. The results of that piece of the study have an 8 percent margin of error.

This article has been corrected from a previous version to more accurately reflect the survey's margin of error.

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