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Dec 04 2013

Community, Not Religion, Fosters Charitable Giving

David Campbell, a political science professor at Notre Dame and director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy, writes in Time magazine about a study he did with another scholar that shows that community, not religion, is what promotes charitable giving.

Having found that religion and charity go hand-in-hand, Robert Putnam and I sought to understand why. The answer might surprise you. We initially thought that religious beliefs must foster a sense of charity—whether inspiration from biblical stories like the Good Samaritan or, perhaps, a fear of God’s judgment for not acting charitably. However, we could find no evidence linking people’s theological beliefs and their rate of giving—which also helps to explain why the “religion effect” varies little across different religions. The rates for charitable giving according to the Jumpstart survey are: 61 percent of Black Protestants; 64 % of Evangelical Protestants; 67 % of Mainline Protestants, 68 % of Roman Catholics, and 76 % of Jews. By contrast, only 46 % of the not religiously affiliated made any charitable giving.

Rather than religious beliefs, we found that the “secret ingredient” for charitable giving among religious Americans is the social networks formed within religious congregations. The more friends someone has within a religious congregation, the more likely that person is to give time, money, or both, to charitable causes. In fact, even non-religious people who have friends within a religious congregation (typically, because their spouse is a believer) are highly charitable—more so than strong believers who have few social ties within a congregation.

Our findings thus suggest that if secular organizations could replicate the sort of tight, interlocking friendship networks found within religious organizations, they too would spur a comparable level of charitable giving.

This is one of the key premises on which the Foundation Beyond Belief was created. It also highlights the importance of building a variety of secular communities locally, regionally, nationally and internationally that help promote philanthropy. The more we give people the opportunity to be charitable, the more they will respond.

15 comments

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  1. 1
    richardelguru

    “…even non-religious people who have friends within a religious congregation (typically, because their spouse is a believer) are highly charitable…”

    It’s only an anecdote, but that’s exactly what’s happened with me, and she won’t even let me put “This one’s from an Atheist” on the package. :-(

  2. 2
    Sastra

    Back when I belonged to a local woman’s club my charitable giving and volunteering was much higher than it is today. Never underestimate the power of the Sign-Up sheet, passed around or posted so that you can see who is doing what (and who isn’t.) In addition to the general peer pressure and shame, there’s role-modeling, personal concern for others (“what, Carol is going to be working the kitchen all by herself again?”) and a general idea that it might be fun to do something useful while in a group of friends. You’ve got folks trying to “make a difference” and “help others” — and you’re a part of it.

    Add in a competitive spirit and I bet a service club will outperform most any church.

  3. 3
    dogfightwithdogma

    On a related subject, a recent report was released that shows that most of the charitable giving done by the religious is to religion itself. Sometime ago I recall Fox News reporting on a study that found that believers give more to charity than non-believers. But the report to which I referred (can be found here: http://connectedtogive.org/) reveals that most of this giving goes to religious institutions.

  4. 4
    Stevarious, Public Health Problem

    But the report to which I referred (can be found here: http://connectedtogive.org/) reveals that most of this giving goes to religious institutions.

    I’ve always wondered why paying to have your giant super-church’s auditorium air conditioned counts as ‘charitable’. Or paying for your pastor’s fancy fleet of BMW’s. Or paying for the lawsuits against your Church for child abuse cover-ups. How is any of that charitable?

  5. 5
    ottod

    It would be interesting to see similar information comparing people who belong to small real communities (villages, small towns, large towns etc.) functional communities (veterans organizations, car clubs, Masons), regardless of religious affiliation. If their premise is correct (and I suspect it is) these groups should should show the same trends until the structure of the organization is such that it limits or precludes personal interactions within the communities (bedroom communities, large cities).

  6. 6
    jenny6833a

    I wonder what qualifies as “charatiable giving”? We give heavily to causes we support, with little regard to whether they’re deductable, but darn little of it is ‘help’ to the ‘needy.’ I don’t know how we’d be classified.

  7. 7
    smrnda

    I also worry about how ‘charitable giving’ is defined. Some wealthy people donate to the arts so they can have their name on a plaque they can look at when they go to see the ballet – is that really charitable giving or is it just giving to your club, similar to giving money for a church to get some new loud speakers?

  8. 8
    democommie

    “The rates for charitable giving according to the Jumpstart survey are: 61 percent of Black Protestants; 64 % of Evangelical Protestants; 67 % of Mainline Protestants, 68 % of Roman Catholics, and 76 % of Jews. By contrast, only 46 % of the not religiously affiliated made any charitable giving.”

    I don’t believe that the actual “charity” work being supported by the religious v non-religious is anything like the numbers quoted–as noted by previous commenters.

    @6:

    Charitable giving? That’s easy to define. Charitable giving is giving to churches that support such things as anti-abortion groups, gay “conversion” therapy, AGW denialism and other things that are GOD’s work. Giving to Green Peace, RWW, MRFF, Planned Parenthood and the like? Delusional and quite likely to be SATANICALLY inspired!

  9. 9
    mithrandir

    I’ve always wondered why paying to have your giant super-church’s auditorium air conditioned counts as ‘charitable’. Or paying for your pastor’s fancy fleet of BMW’s. Or paying for the lawsuits against your Church for child abuse cover-ups. How is any of that charitable?

    To be fair, it’s not unheard of for secular charities to have an excessive overhead ratio (though too low an overhead ratio isn’t healthy either, as it indicates the charity isn’t investing in its ability to serve its own cause). Megachurches, when considered as charities, may have particularly high overhead ratios to the point that an analogous secular charity would be considered borderline fraudulent, but I don’t doubt smaller churches are much more effective as charities.

    Perhaps more germane to your point, I wonder how many people would look up their own church on Charity Navigator? And how many churchgoers would be offended if you even suggested doing such a thing (or otherwise researching how much of their tithe is helping the needy)?

  10. 10
    jenny6833a

    Since I wondered what these folks considered “charitable giving,” I did the unthinkable: I downloaded and read their report. It’s vague, damn vague, as to what constitutes charitible giving. And, they give no examples of what recipients would or wouldn’t qualify.

    As best as I can derive from the vaguity, we (my family) would be classified as non-givers. That is, ACLU Foundation, Naturist Education Foundation, Planned Parenthood, Compassion & Choices, Death with Dignity, and half-a-dozen others that regularly get our donations don’t qualify.

    If so, I regard the report as just another piece of crap.

  11. 11
    democommie

    I did some photography at a benefit on the evening before Thanksgiving. It was for uncovered medical and incidental expenses (such as $300/night not palatial rooms in NYC, when the young man and his parents have to go for treatments) for a young man diagnosed with leukemia earlier this year.

    The outpouring of love was obvious and a lot money was donated (and, as a juicy bonus por moi, not one person said anything to me about GOD being involved) by friends of the family and the customers of one of the family’s in-laws who owns a local den of iniquity/study center. The family was grateful and everyone who worked the event or supported it was made aware of that.

    It was the way a benefit should be done.

    @10:

    “If so, I regard the report as just another piece of crap.”

    And that is prolly giving it too much weight.

  12. 12
    Doubting Thomas

    “Community”? That’s like communism right?

  13. 13
    abb3w

    It looks like the peer-reviewed technical journal piece underlying this is (doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.09.011) — subscription required. The data set used looks to be the 2006 Portraits of American Life Study.

  14. 14
    cjcolucci

    One thing to consider when believers are compared with unbelievers on some kind of moral scale is that it is just a plain fact that most Americans develop their moral character in a religious context. The non-believing group will include not only thoughtful non-believers with secular-based moral character, but moral slackers with no particular moral character at all. They didn’t develop character in either a religious or a secular context. It is all the more remarkable, therefore, that even with non-believers having to pull the dead weight of the moral slackers, it is very hard to show that believers, as a class, are significantly more “moral,” however measured, than non-believers.

  15. 15
    demonhauntedworld

    abb3w – I was curious and looked up the journal article as well. Curiously, there seems to be a disconnect between what Williams says in the time article and what Putnam et al say in the peer-reviewed article. Here’s the relevant bit:

    Finally, we test if the impact of religious attendance is due to having strong religious networks. The results of this model are presented in Table 6, with some of the other religion coefficients shown, but with control variables coefficients omitted from presentation. Strong religious social networks positively predict five of our eight outcomes (those not predicted are charitable giving, informal helping, and giving advice). More importantly, the inclusion of religious social networks reduces the attendance coefficient to statistical insignificance in several of the models. The magnitude of the attendance coefficients are much smaller in this final model, at a minimum half as large as in the controls-only model (and often are reduced by more than half), and are statistically indistinguishable from zero. In other words, those who attend religious services more often are more likely to engage in civic activities and informal helping not because of beliefs, politics, or general sociability, but because they have strong religious social networks. Notably, this effect is net of the effect of general sociability. In other words, these models suggest that between two people with the same number of friends, the one with closer church friends will be more civically engaged. The same goes for sociability—among two individuals who are equally outgoing, spending time with friends and family, socializing, and going out with friends, the one who has a stronger religious social network will be more engaged.

    We conducted formal mediation tests to determine what proportion of the attendance effects are mediated by religious social networks.11 Results showed that religious social networks mediate 50% of the effect of attendance on volunteering; 66% of the effect on attending public meetings; none of the formal giving effect; 100% of the effect on political involvement; 23% of the effect on helping; 100% of the effect on informal giving; 20% of the effect on advice; and 78% of the effect on number of political activities. Notably, those outcomes that are less mediated are also variables where the coefficient of religious network is positive but not statistically significant.

    So in the paper they say that social networks don’t mediate the effect of religosity on (formal) giving, but in the Time article, that’s exactly what they say. Maybe the distinction between formal and informal giving was lost?

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