Charity and ideology

Some interesting statistics correlating charitable giving to political ideology:

Over the past several years, studies have consistently shown that people on the political right outperform those on the left when it comes to charity. This pattern appears to have held — increased, even — in 2008.

In May of last year, the Gallup polling organization asked 1,200 American adults about their giving patterns. People who called themselves “conservative” or “very conservative” made up 42% of the population surveyed, but gave 56% of the total charitable donations. In contrast, “liberal” or “very liberal” respondents were 29% of those polled but gave just 7% of donations.

These disparities were not due to differences in income. People who said they were “very conservative” gave 4.5% of their income to charity, on average; “conservatives” gave 3.6%; “moderates” gave 3%; “liberals” gave 1.5%; and “very liberal” folks gave 1.2%.

This seems to confirm the common impression that conservatives contribute their own money, while liberals vote to contribute other people’s money.  (Last September, it was revealed that Joe Biden over the last decade gave an average of 0.2% of his income to charity, $369 per year. The revelation came at the same time as he was calling for Americans to pitch in more through their taxes.)

The column goes on to explain that the difference cannot be explained by religion alone, and concludes with some practical advice for non-profits:

All this is good news for the health and survival of explicitly conservative organizations, of course. But folks on the political right give to all types of nonprofits — from soup kitchens to symphony orchestras — not just conservative groups.

Ironically, few environments are less tolerant of conservatives and their ideas than the nonprofit world. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported in October of 2008 that employees of major charities favored Democrats over Republicans in their private political contributions by a margin of 82% to 18%. Among the employees of major foundations, the difference was an astounding 98% to 2%.

Reasonable people can disagree on politics, but the numbers on giving speak for themselves. Nonprofit executives, disproportionately politically progressive, do well to remember that many of the folks they will count on in hard times are not necessarily those who share their political views. Understanding this might make for better fund raising in a scary year — and help us all to give credit where it is due.

Progressive politicians have the power to attack conservatives while still collecting taxes from them.  Progressive non-profits do not, so they need to avoid alienating their benefactors.  Safe zones might be a good start.

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