Surprising Facts About America’s Charity Giving

Red cross clothing pickup

The United States of America is one of the most charitable nations on earth. National giving–that is, what Americans end up donated because their government gives of their tax money on their behalf–is actually the least of what people in this country are doing in terms of charitable donations. Red Cross donations, used clothing donations, household goods, or monetary gifts, here’s some amazing facts about this aspect of America’s national culture:

  • Most Americans are givers; at least a bit. Statistics show that 70% of the population gives to a charity every year. And while a few are undoubtedly giving primarily for ulterior motives, all those Red Cross donations and other contributions are still pretty enormous, and the tax breaks people get from giving to them can’t possibly account for all of it. After all, once the money is donated, it’s still lost to the person who gave it! Americans donate more money per person, and as a percentage of income (between 3% and 4% of national income, depending on the year), than any other nation on earth. This makes non-profits a big part of the American economy: $666.1 billion annually.
  • American philanthropy is not politically driven. This is one of the most interesting statistics. In some places, it’s easy to track the size and direction of giving based upon who is in power at the moment or what the government tells its people to do in terms of causes. But individual giving in the United States remains surprisingly static, even during turbulent election years and massive shifts in political party. In fact, the only thing that really affects American giving is the national economy. The more personal income the average citizen has, the higher the rates of things like Red Cross donations.
    But even economics don’t play as large a part as might otherwise be expected. When Americans can’t give money, they donate clothes and household goods, and they are also make massive donations in terms of time. Approximately 40% of Americans volunteer their time for an organization in a given month, and that percentage goes up when there are specific needs, such as after hurricanes and devastating floods.
  • American philanthropy is not primarily from the rich. The rich get most of the attention when they do give, but the reality is that it’s low income people who are giving the highest proportion of their income to others: 4.5% on average. And even among the rich, giving just as a way to get out of a higher tax bracket is rarer than we might assume. Actually the majority of givers do not itemize their tax deductions, which is surprising given that itemization is required for someone to claim their gift for a tax deduction.
  • American individual philanthropy is growing. A 2016 study showed that American individual and corporate giving to all the nine major kinds of charities increased, and has been doing so year on year for decades. The highest increase in 2016 was among environmental, animal, arts, humanities, and health causes. The lowest increase was seen in education donations; but even there donations increased by 3.6% over 2015 levels.

All over the United States, people are making Red Cross donations, giving of their time to local charities, hunting out the local clothing donation center, and otherwise giving to help others, the environment, and our world. We’ve got a pretty good track record so far: let’s keep it up!

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