Three Percent

on in Fundraising

For the last several decades, Americans have consistently given an average of 3% of their income to charity.

Year-in, year-out, no matter how bullish or dismal the economy, no matter how clever the fundraising gimmick (including publicly cascading ice cubes), the total ratio of giving to income has remained roughly the same.

But according to a recent deep-dive analysis by the Chronicle of Philanthropy into the giving patterns of taxpayers who itemize their deductions (about 80% of taxpayers), that average belies a critical difference in giving between rich and poor: while the rich give more money overall, the poor reach deeper into their pockets to make a difference.

b2ap3_thumbnail_percent-76213_1280.jpgThe fact of this – that the poor and middle-class give a higher proportion of their income to charity – has been long-known. When you have less overall, a modest gift makes a greater dent than a larger gift does proportionally to a wealthier individual.

But the pattern through the recent recession is especially stark. The wealthiest Americans, earning $200,000 or more, actually reduced the percentage of income they gave by 4.6% from 2006 to 2012.

Yet Americans who earned less than $100,000 chipped in 4.5% more of their income during the same time period.


Did higher income Americans feel the bite of the failing stock market more than lower income individuals?

Did lower and middle-income Americans see more firsthand consequences of the failing economy, and were therefore inspired to reach into their pockets to ameliorate the impact for their friends and neighbors?

The jury is still out on “why,” but the message for nonprofits is clear: Everyone is a possible donor.

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