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Majority of Households Give, But Still Many are Not Consistent

(Dec. 10, 2007) A majority of U.S. households give to charity consistently every year, but almost three in ten shift every year between giving and not giving, according to a new survey conducted by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

The Center on Philanthropy Panel Study (COPPS) found that roughly the same percentage of families made charitable gifts in 2000, 2002 and 2004 (between 67 and 69 percent). However, because the same families were tracked in all three years, the survey showed that some families give some years, but not others.

Overall, 56 percent of the 8,000 households included in the survey give to charity every year, while 29 percent switch between giving and not giving. Just 14 percent of households did not give in any of the three years.

Consistency Means Bigger Gifts

Not surprisingly, households that consistently gave to charity every year tended to contribute significantly more. Families that gave in each of the three survey years contributed, on average, $2,659 in 2004, compared to just an average of $820 contributed in 2004 by families who gave in one or two of the three survey years.

Overall, 68 percent of households gave at least $25 to charity in 2004. Of those households contributing, the average annual household contributions amounted to $2,045.

“Nonprofits’ ability to encourage donors to keep giving is vital to raising needed funds. Finding that a sizeable portion of people who give in one year do not make any gifts at all the following year opens the door to greater understanding of the factors that influence people’s giving, and what causes those behaviors to change.” said Eugene R. Tempel, Ed.D., CFRE, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, in a press release about the survey.

Tempel also indicated that the center will be examining the survey data in greater detail to try to determine why some families changed their giving decisions year to year.

Recipients of Household Generosity

The COPPS study also examined which causes households tended to support. Religion was by far the most popular choice, with 45 percent of households giving to religious organizations and donating an average of $1,858.

Several other causes were supported by roughly a quarter of all households in the survey, including:

  • Twenty-eight percent gave to meet others’ basic needs, giving $482 on average.
  • Twenty-seven percent made contributions totaling an average of $502 to “combined purposes” such as United Way, Jewish federations and other charities that raise funds to redistribute to a variety of recipient organizations.
  • Twenty-three percent donated to health causes, giving an average of $257.
  • Just over 24 percent of households gave in late 2004 or in 2005 for relief efforts related to the 2004 Asian tsunami, with an average gift of $121.

Income Affects Likelihood of Giving, Amounts

As has been seen in other surveys, the COPPS survey continued to confirm that higher-income donors tend to give more often, but contribute a lower percentage of their income.

More than nine in ten (93 percent) higher-income households (those with incomes of $100,000 or more) reported contributing $25 or more to charity in 2004, in comparison to just 56 percent of households with incomes under $50,000.

However, those same lower-income households gave a higher percentage of their income (4.2 percent) than higher-income households, who gave just 2.2 percent of their incomes.

About the Survey

Key results of the latest survey, including percentages of households giving in 2004, average amounts contributed broken out by type of recipient organization, such as education or arts, and other findings are available under the Center on Philanthropy Panel Study section.

Working papers by scholars using COPPS data are also available from the Center on Philanthropy. Topics include how parental giving is linked with their adult children’s giving; the amounts and percentage of income given to religion by adherents of different faith groups; and the relationship between living in an ethnically diverse community and charitable giving.

Scholars and nonprofit professionals who would like to access the COPPS dataset free of charge online in downloadable formats may contact Melissa Brown at or 317-278-8964.

The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University is a leading academic center dedicated to increasing the understanding of philanthropy, improving its practice, and enhancing participation in philanthropy through research, teaching, public service and public affairs programs in philanthropy, fundraising and management of nonprofit organizations.

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