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New Giving Index Shows U.S. Philanthropy Quite Strong

(May 2, 2005) Despite mixed signals on the economy, Americans continue overwhelmingly to donate to a variety of charitable causes, with more than 90 percent giving at least $100 to more than $10,000 annually.

These findings come from the inaugural Freelanthropy Charitable Giving Index, a new survey of how much Americans give and the types of nonprofit organizations they support. Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Freelanthropy, a new online service assisting nonprofits with branding, communications and fundraising, will be tracking donation patterns through the Index on a quarterly basis.

According to the index, the largest percentage of Americans (42 percent) gave between $100 and $1,000 in 2004. The next largest group, 24 percent, contributed less than $100, while 18.5 percent donated between $1,000 and $5,000. Only 4.4 percent gave between $5,000 and $10,000, while just over 1 percent gave more than $10,000.

The new index looks at how much Americans give by age, employment status and geography. Some of the more interesting findings include:

  • Younger individuals aged 18-24 were the group most likely to give more than in the past, while those over 65 were most likely to give less.
  • Self-employed individuals comprised the largest employment group to contribute larger gifts, with 28 percent giving at the $5,000-$10,000 level.
  • Retirees were the smallest group (15 percent) to give at the $5,000-$10,000 level, and a surprising 19 percent of unemployed individuals still managed to contribute at this level.
  • Twenty-four percent of full-time employees donated less than $100.
  • The biggest givers in the $5,000-$10,000 level (6.6 percent) hailed from the Midwest, leading the West (4.3 percent) and the Northeast (2.3 percent).

A Religion Gap?

The survey also queried participants about what organizations they supported. The most popular charities that young people supported were health and human services. The group most likely to include new parents--those age 25-34--ranked education first. Participants over age 65 supported religious organizations by a wide margin over any group.

The religion gap is especially striking when comparing groups by age. Americans 45 and older ranked the support of religious organizations first, while people in the younger age brackets ranked it last.

On a gender basis, men and women differed in their support for education funding (22.5 percent of men ranked it first vs. 12.3 percent of women). The reverse was true for support of environmental causes, where 18 percent of women ranked it first compared to 11.6 percent of men.

The Freelanthropy survey, conducted in mid-January 2005 by the market research firm Synovate in Chicago, asked a cross-section of 1,000 Americans to provide information on their giving behavior. The margin of error for the survey is 3 percent.

Numerous Ways to Measure Giving

The Freelanthropy Charitable Giving Index is just one of several ways that the sector is now measuring philanthropy. The full report from the first Freelanthropy index is available on request by emailing

The Indiana University Center on Philanthropy has been tracking giving through its Philanthropic Giving Index (PGI) for the past several years. The PGI reveals current trends and future expectations in American philanthropic giving by measuring attitudes about the philanthropic-giving climate twice yearly. The December 2004 PGI found that the current assessment of the nonprofit fundraising climate is at levels similar to those seen six months ago and above those of one year ago.

In June, the American Association of Fundraising Counsel (AAFRC) Trust for Philanthropy will release its annual Giving USA survey of approximately how much overall giving occurred in the United States in 2004.

Furthermore, the Association of Fundraising Professionals' (AFP) own State of Fundraising 2004 survey was released in April at its International Conference on Fundraising and found charitable giving to have been much stronger in 2004 than in 2003. AFP's State of Fundraising 2004 survey is the only one to include Canada in its findings.

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