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Fundraising Tips: A Snapshot of Rural Donors

(April 6, 2010) Although people from rural communities are less likely to donate to charity, those that do give donate a higher percentage of their income than urban donors, according to a recent study by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

The research, funded by a grant from AFP, found that all else held constant, rural respondents were almost 5.2 percentage points less likely to be a charitable donor, and donated less, on average, than urban donors, after controlling for human and social capital variables, such as education level, income level, health status, religious affiliation, family composition, and others.

Rural respondents were significantly less likely to be donors to secular charities, and gave less on average to secular causes overall.

However, rural donors donated a statistically significantly higher percentage of their income to charity than did urban donors. Also, rural donors are more likely to donate to religious causes than secular causes. Frequent religious attendance is associated with a higher probability of giving for rural residents, as is itemization of deductions on income tax returns.

Researchers found that rural donors give $122 less, on average, after controls. However, for both urban and rural residents, the amount contributed is closely related to some of the same factors that are associated with the probability of giving: being a college graduate, being married, frequency of religious attendance, level of wealth, level of income and itemizing charitable deductions.

Note: The researchers defined "rural" as those living in small towns with a population of less than 20,000. In this study, approximately 18 percent to 21 percent of respondents lived in rural areas.

College Educated Give More

The researchers offered several suggestions for fundraising in rural areas. Because college education is a factor associated with giving, engage college educated people in your work, researchers recommend. Rural residents who have gone to college give more than those who had not had that opportunity, even after taking income differences into account. Especially for secular causes, it is important to cultivate the interest of people with a college education, and people likely to be itemizing deductions (people who have recently purchased a home, for example).

Segment potential donors by income in order to structure appeal amounts matched to different areas. Values expressed most frequently by rural donors include:

  • Those with more should help those with less (equity of responsibility);
  • Giving is a form of reciprocity for benefits received;
  • Giving is a way to express religious beliefs; and
  • Nonprofit organizations are perceived to be more effective in delivering services than government agencies.

Even with attention to fundraising in rural areas, the total amount of charitable giving from rural areas will naturally be smaller than the total gifts from urban areas, because fewer people live in rural areas.

Urban Communities

Urban residents donate almost 85.4 percent of total charitable giving, according to the study. Average and median giving amounts, whether for overall giving, religious or secular causes, from urban donors were always higher than the averages from rural donors.

Suggestions for fundraising in urban communities based on the findings of this study include:

  • Ask couples to give to charity, not simply the men in the household. Men report lower giving and lower probability of giving to secular causes, compared with women. Married people report giving more than unmarried people of either gender.
  • Segment on income but expect lower rates of return in lower income areas. Structure appeal amounts matched to different income levels. Income is associated with the probability of giving (higher income means higher probability of making a charitable gift) and with higher gift amounts.
  • Structure requests to highlight connections to the prospective donor's friends and family, in addition to the appealing to broader concerns for equity and reciprocity. Urban donors were more likely than rural donors to say they gave to support the efforts of their friends and family.

 Download the Study: Charitable Giving by Type of Community: Comparing Donation Patterns of Rural and Urban Donors

To visit the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University's website, go to

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