I stumbled across a study done by The Chronicle of Philanthropy in 2012, looking at how Americans give at the city, state, and regional levels; one of the most interesting findings picks apart religion’s role in how much money people give to charities, both religious and secular.
The Chronicle found that in regions that tend to be more religious, most significantly the South, people were more generous – Southern donors gave an average of 5.2% of their discretionary income to charities, versus an average of 4% in the Northeast.
However, when donations to religious organizations were taken out of the picture, everyone, particularly the South, gets a lot stingier. When the study looked only at donations to secular charities, giving plummeted. Donors in the Southern andMidwestern regions dropped to giving just an average of 0.9% (from 5.2% and 4.3%, respectively), while the West fared slightly better at 1.1% (down from 4.5%). The Northeast is the most generous region towards secular charities, giving 1.4% on average (down from 4%).
The link between religion and giving is not a huge shock. I can name ten religious organizations that I would consider giving money to, and none of them include my home church. In fact, many people who go to a church, mosque, or synagogue probably hear about the important of tithing or giving to the church on a regular basis. Over and over again, I’ve sat in the pews and heard about my responsibility as a Christian to give generously (note: I am not trying to minimize the importance of tithing – I fully recognize how important it is for the church and how it is an act of giving back to God).
What I think is not discussed, but should be, is the non-monetary donations given to religious and secular charities around the country. Of course organizations need a certain amount of funds to function, but most charities also need bodies, people who are willing to donate their time and skills. If you look at some of the top charities in the United States, the need for more than just dollars and checks becomes apparent. The YMCA, Habitat for Humanity, the Boys and Girls Club, Planned Parenthood, Red Cross. All of these organizations need passionate people who will spend two hours tutoring kids, who will give up a Saturday to help build a house, who will call their politicians to advocate for women’s health. Do religious people have a responsibility to give back with their wallets and their bodies? Are you giving back to your creator, however you name them, if you write checks without ever seeing what your funding?
Yes. I firmly believe that to be good stewards of our world, charity has to go beyond philanthropy to include service work. I can’t help but think about John Wesley’s quote, “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 you ever can.” When you give back with your time, you often glimpse the divine in the face of that child who is learning to read, that future homeowner, and those refugees from disaster enjoying a hot cup of coffee. Try it out. You never know where you’ll meet your God, your Yahweh, your Allah.
- Check out The Chronicle’s full study, How America Gives
- How The Chronicle Compiled Its Look at Giving Across America