For faith and generosity, it’s déjà vu all over again.

The folks over the Chronicle of Philanthropy have just released a special report titled “How America Gives,” and surprise, surprise, faith is a major factor in the findings. As has been the case in every study ever done of philanthropic activity in these United States, the religious shine. When it comes to the faith and generosity connection, it’s déjà vu all over again.

Illustration from The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Based on a city by city analysis of IRS data, the research team behind “How America Gives” found that “regions of the country that are deeply religious are more generous than those that are not. Two of the top nine states—Utah and Idaho—have high numbers of Mormon residents, who have a tradition of tithing at least 10 percent of their income to the church. The remaining states in the top nine are all in the Bible Belt.”


Nothing new about this news. Year in and year out, in good times and in bad, the greenest pastures when it comes to giving are those where God’s sheep regularly graze. If you doubt my claim, consider the following from Giving USA, (another fantastic source of information for inquiring minds in the development offices of faith-based nonprofits):

  • Seventy-four percent of those who participate at least occasionally in worship services give to charity, while only 50 percent of those who never attend do so; and the more often one attends the more likely one is to giving.
  • Religious households give 87.5 percent of all charitable contributions, averaging over $2,100 in annual contributions to all causes.
  • Persons of faith are 25 percentage points more likely to donate money and 23 points more likely to volunteer time than the general population.
  • Persons of faith are 33 percent of the population but make up 52 percent of donations and 45 percent of times volunteered.
  • Religious practice by itself is associated with $1,388 more in an individual’s giving per year.

That’s how people of faith give. And that they keep it up even when times are tough is a blessing to the communities in which they live. As the authors of the Chronicle study note, “the cities and states with the most-generous residents [or as I refer to them, the most religious] may be in a better position to help the millions of people still suffering from joblessness and other financial setbacks.”

If ever there was a moment for faith communities to preach, teach, and practice generosity, it’s now.  This is our time. This is our witness. Just as in all our yesterdays, today and tomorrow, generous matters.


  1. Why does giving as a percentage of GDP remain fixed for the past 40 years (as long as records have been kept — regardless of the economy and the growth of the church) and why are you assuming religious giving helps the destitute vs. merely putting a new roof on or a new parking lot in? Yes, it has always been time for faith communities to be generous, sacrificial even, to the stranger, but that was tried and failed in the of the “social gospel.” Things stay the same in more ways than one.

    • Thanks for weighing in, James. You’ve asked an important question about the stubborn plateau upon which giving in the US has been stuck for almost four decades. I see a direct correlation between the decline in church attendance in the US and the decline in real dollars in charitable giving. I’m not saying that persons of no faith can’t be or aren’t generous. There are too many examples of amazing generosity by people who don’t link giving to faith for me, or anyone else, to say that. However, there’s also compelling evidence that a generous spirit fueled by faith is an amazing combination.

      You’re also correct that a lot of the money contributed to houses of worship goes toward maintaining those “houses.” That said, look closely at the social service safety net in any community across America and you’ll see the impact of churches and the people who attend them.

      I don’t believe it’s our gospel that has failed. I believe it’s our failure to live our gospel consistently, including in how we direct our money, that’s the problem. This is the message that pastors, fundraisers, parents, all of us need to preach and live every day. I believe things can change and that the change begins in individual hearts that are encouraged to be rich toward God.

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