America’s Most (and Least) Generous States

August 22, 2012 by 247Editors

A report released on charitable giving this week shows that the residents of some states appear to be far more generous than others. The average Utah household earning more than $50,000 a year gave more than 10% of its disposable income, while similarly situated New Hampshire residents gave less than 3% of their income. Based on The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s latest data, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the most and least generous states in the country.

Read: America’s Most Generous States

Read: America’s Least Generous States

The states that give the most appear to have more residents in need. Seven of the 10 most charitable states also have among the 10-highest proportions of families living below the poverty level. In Mississippi, where the median charitable donation was 7.2% of discretionary income — the second-highest in the country — nearly 20% of families live below the poverty line, the nation’s highest rate.

The presence of very high-income households appeared to reduce the percent of discretionary income residents gave. Only one of the 20 states with the largest proportion of residents earning $200,000 or more were among the 10 most generous states. This makes sense, explained Peter Panepento, assistant managing editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, in an interview with 24/7 Wall St. He explained that “Those who are at the higher income levels give more money, but they tend to give at a lower percentage of their income because their incomes are so much higher.”

However, the wealthy are more likely to make charitable donations when exposed to poverty. According to an earlier study conducted by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, households that earned more than $200,000 a year gave on average 4.2% of their median discretionary income. But when those wealthy households lived in highly concentrated areas of wealthy people, where more than 40% of the zipcode earned more than $200,000 a year, they gave only 2.8%. “So,” Panepento explained, “there’s some thought that the more you’re exposed to the needs of your community, the more compelled you are to give.”

The presence of religion appeared to have the strongest relationship to charitable donations. Of the 10 states that gave the most, eight were among the 10 states with the highest percentage of residents reporting going to church, synagogue, or mosque on a weekly basis, based on a Gallup survey. The reverse was true of the least charitable states. New Hampshire, the state that gave the least, also had the lowest percentage of residents reporting attending religious services. Panepento explained that this “was particularly the case in Utah, where the Mormon church is a major force, and where tithing is a big part of that state’s culture.”

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The Chronicle of Philanthropy measured charitable giving by households that earned more than $50,000 in 2008. The group calculated how much discretionary income those households had, based on income, taxes and the cost of living in the state. They then compared discretionary income to the median charitable donation, to determine how much residents donated relative to how much they could afford. In addition to these data, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed median household income, the percent of families living below the poverty line and the percent of households earning more than $200,000 from the U.S. Census Bureau. We relied on a 2009 Gallup survey for the percent of residents in each state that attended a religious service on a weekly basis. The percentage of 2010 tax filers who reported a charitable donation was obtained from the Internal Revenue Service.

These are America’s Most (and Least) Generous States

America’s 10 Most Generous States

10. Maryland
> Pct. of income donated: 5.7%
> Total charitable contributions: $3.9 billion (11th highest)
> Median contribution: $2,969 (13th highest)
> Pct. households $200,000+ income: 9.7% (3rd highest)
> Pct. families in poverty: 6.6% (2nd lowest)

Maryland’s median household income of $68,854 is the highest in the U.S., and the percentage of households making more than $200,000 a year, at 9.7%, is the third highest in the country. While Maryland is the only state on this list with a median contribution below $3,000, it may be because residents spend more than most on taxes. Marylanders pay $5,217.64 per capita in state and local taxes, the fifth highest in the U.S. and the highest on this list by a hefty $1,634.92.

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9. North Carolina
> Pct. of income donated: 5.9%
> Total charitable contributions: $4.3 billion (9th highest)
> Median contribution: $3,132 (11th highest)
> Pct. households $200,000+ income: 3.6% (24th highest)
> Pct. families in poverty: 13.3% (11th highest)

North Carolina may have one of highest unemployment rates in the country at 9.6%, but residents of this state are still some of the most generous in the country. The giving is also relatively consistent throughout the population with 28.9% of tax returns filing for charitable donations — the 15th-highest percentage in the country. Like many of the most generous states, North Carolina has a church attendance that is also among the highest in the country. 53% of North Carolinians reported going to church, synagogue or mosque at least once a week compared to the 41.6% national average. Three of the most generous cities in the U.S. reporting the most donations per 1,000 people also happen to be located in the Tar Heel state: Cary, Raleigh, and Durham.

8. Georgia
> Pct. of income donated: 6.2%
> Total charitable contributions: $4.8 billion (6th highest)
> Median contribution: $3,396 (7th highest)
> Pct. households $200,000+ income: 4.2% (19th highest)
> Pct. families in poverty: 13.7% (9th highest)

Georgia has among the highest percent of families living below the poverty line and the fifth-highest unemployment rate. The giving in this state is fairly consistent across the population — Georgia ranks 12th for the percentage of tax returns filed with charitable donations listed at 29.7%. Georgia is a fairly religious state — 51% of residents report going to church, synagogue or mosque at least once a week, among the highest in the country.

7. Arkansas
> Pct. of income donated: 6.3%
> Total charitable contributions: $1 billion (18th lowest)
> Median contribution: $3,554 (5th highest)
> Pct. households $200,000+ income: 2.3% (3rd lowest)
> Pct. families in poverty: 14.1% (6th highest)

Like many of the most generous states, Arkansas is one of the poorer states in the country. The median household income is the third lowest in the country at $38,307, and the percentage of households with a median income over $200,000 is less than half the national average of 5.1%. While the percentage of discretionary income donated was one of the highest in the country, Arkansas had the seventh-lowest percentage of tax returns filed with charitable donations listed. The amount, 19.2%, is less than half the amount of Maryland, the state with the highest percentage of tax returns listing charitable donations, although Marylanders gave less as a percent of their discretionary income.

6. Idaho
> Pct. of income donated: 6.4% (tied-fifth)
> Total charitable contributions: $639 million (14th lowest)
> Median contribution: $3,155 (10th highest)
> Pct. households $200,000+ income: 2.3% (4th lowest)
> Pct. families in poverty: 11.6% (19th highest)

Idaho ties with South Carolina for being the fifth most generous state in the nation. According to a 2006 study by Philanthropy Northwest, 69% of all charitable donations in Idaho went towards education related charities. This is an appropriate focus for a state that had the second lowest spending per a pupil at $7,106. The national average for pupil spending was $10,615. Residents may think they have more to donate because Idaho is a downright cheap place to live. The cost of living index for Idaho is the sixth lowest in U.S.

5. South Carolina
> Pct. of income donated: 6.4% (tied-fifth)
> Total charitable contributions: $2 billion (25th highest)
> Median contribution: $3,429 (6th highest)
> Pct. households $200,000+ income: 2.9% (11th lowest)
> Pct. families in poverty: 13.8% (8th highest)

South Carolina is a state buffeted by economic problems. The state’s 9.6% unemployment rate is tied for fifth highest in the U.S. and well above the national rate of 8.3%. The state also has among the highest percentage of residents on food stamps (14.5%) and families living below the poverty line (13.8%). Nevertheless, 25.8% of South Carolina residents filed tax returns with charitable contributions, collectively giving 6.4% of their discretionary income. Like many generous states, South Carolina is deeply religious, with 56% of the population going to church, synagogue or mosque at least once a week, the fourth highest proportion in the U.S.

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4. Tennessee
> Pct. of income donated: 6.6%
> Total charitable contributions: $2.7 billion (16th highest)
> Median contribution: $3,807 (4th highest)
> Pct. households $200,000+ income: 3.4% (22nd lowest)
> Pct. families in poverty: 13.4% (10th highest)

Unlike states such as South Carolina and Georgia, where more than a quarter of the people filed for charitable contribution deductions, less than one in five of Tennesseans filed taxes with a contribution. Nevertheless, those who did donate gave a median contribution of $3,807, the fourth highest of all states. Low taxes and low cost of living may be encouraging some Tennesseans to donate. The 7.6% state and local tax burden is the fourth-lowest in the country. Meanwhile, the state also has the lowest overall cost of living and the lowest cost of living for housing.

3. Alabama
> Pct. of income donated: 7.1%
> Total charitable contributions: $2.3 billion (21st highest)
> Median contribution: $4,007 (2nd highest)
> Pct. households $200,000+ income: 2.9% (12th lowest)
> Pct. families in poverty: 14.7% (3rd highest)

Alabama is a deeply religious state, with 58% of the population going to church, synagogue or mosque at least once a week, which is highly indicative of a giving culture. A quarter of the people in the state filed tax returns with charitable contributions, and the median contribution was $4,007 — the only state except for Utah with a median contribution above $4,000. But since the Chronicle of Philanthropy survey only measured donations for households who make more than $50,000, it may have missed many people in Alabama who don’t make nearly enough to qualify for this measurement. Most notably, 14.7% of families live below the poverty line, the third highest rate among all states.

2. Mississippi
> Pct. of income donated: 7.2%
> Total charitable contributions: $1.1 billion (19th lowest)
> Median contribution: $3,998 (3rd highest)
> Pct. households $200,000+ income: 2.1% (2nd lowest)
> Pct. families in poverty: 17.8% (the highest)

Mississippi has the lowest median income in the country at $36,851 and highest percentage of families living below the poverty line at 17.8%. But that doesn’t keep the residents from being generous with what they do have. Religion likely influences how residents donate. Mississippians are avid church-goers — 63% of residents went to church, synagogue or mosque once a week, the highest percentage in the country.

1. Utah
> Pct. of income donated: 10.6%
> Total charitable contributions: $2.4 billion (20th highest)
> Median contribution: $5,225 (the highest)
> Pct. households $200,000+ income: 3.5% (24th lowest)
> Pct. families in poverty: 9.7% (24th lowest)

Utah isn’t by any means the richest state in the U.S. The median income of $54,744 is right around the national median of $50,046. Nevertheless, Utahns donated 10.6% of their discretionary income to charity — the highest rate of any state by sizable 3.4 percentage points. Also, more than a third (33.4%) of the population claimed a charitable contribution on their taxes. High amounts of charitable giving is a product of the fact that a majority of Utahns are Mormon – more than 62% of Utah’s population is affiliated with the Mormon Church, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. Funded by tithing, the church asks members to give 10% of their income “to move forward the work of the church.”

America’s 10 Least Generous States

10. Nevada
> Pct. of income donated: 3.9%
> Total charitable contributions: $952 million (16th lowest)
> Median contribution: $1,978 (9th lowest)
> Pct. households $200,000+ income: 3.7% (23rd highest)
> Pct. families in poverty: 11.1% (21st highest)

Nevadans are lightly taxed, paying just 7.5% of their income in state and local taxes — the second-smallest tax burden in the U.S. Still, residents of the state were among the worst givers in the country, as the state’s median contribution was less than $2,000. One issue that may contribute to this low figure is religion. Just 30% of Nevadans were regularly involved in religious services, the lowest proportion in the nation outside New England.

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9. New Jersey
> Pct. of income donated: 3.7%
> Total charitable contributions: $4.5 billion (8th highest)
> Median contribution: $2,181 (14th lowest)
> Pct. households $200,000+ income: 10.6% (the highest)
> Pct. families in poverty: 7.8% (10th lowest)

New Jersey residents like to donate, with 36.6% filing tax returns claiming a deduction for charitable contributions. However, donations remain modest. At only 3.7% of discretionary income, charitable donations as a percentage of discretionary income are far lower than most states. In fairness, New Jerseyans have it hard, faced with a collective 12.2% state and local tax burden, the highest in the country. While the state is not the most religious in the country, it’s pious compared to much of the Northeast. 38% of New Jersey residents attended church, synagogue or mosque at least once a week, compared to less than one-third of residents in Rhode Island (32%), Connecticut (32%), Massachusetts (30%), Vermont (23%), Maine (27%) and New Hampshire (26%).

8. North Dakota
> Pct. of income donated: 3.5%
> Total charitable contributions: $164 million (the lowest)
> Median contribution: $2,257 (17th lowest)
> Pct. households $200,000+ income: 3.1% (13th lowest)
> Pct. families in poverty: 7.8% (9th lowest)

North Dakota’s total charitable contributions by households earning over $50,000 a year was the absolute smallest, at $164 million. In addition to the state’s modest population, relatively few residents listed a charitable deduction on their tax returns — at 14.7%, it was second-lowest proportion in the country. Though the state’s median income was slightly below the national median, North Dakotans are not especially poor. Just 7.8% of families lived below the poverty line, among the lowest percentage in the U.S., while 8.2% of households required food stamps, below the 11.9% national average. Additionally, North Dakota’s July unemployment rate was just 3%, well under the national rate of 8.3% and the lowest in the country.

7. Wisconsin
> Pct. of income donated: 3.4%
> Total charitable contributions: $2 billion (25th lowest)
> Median contribution: $1,747 (6th lowest)
> Pct. households $200,000+ income: 3.3% (17th lowest)
> Pct. families in poverty: 9.1% (17th lowest)

Wisconsin is one of just two Midwestern states that are on the list of the least generous states in the country. Maybe this lack of propensity for giving is due to an above average tax burden on individuals in the Badger state. The average state and local tax burden of 11% in Wisconsin is the fourth highest in the country. Or, maybe it has something to do with the above average equality in the state as compared to the rest of the country. The one-year Gini coefficient for Wisconsin is the sixth lowest in the country, meaning that the divide between the rich and poor is relatively narrow.

6. Connecticut
> Pct. of income donated: 3.3%
> Total charitable contributions: $2.3 billion (22nd highest)
> Median contribution: $1,916 (7th lowest)
> Pct. households $200,000+ income: 10.3% (2nd highest)
> Pct. families in poverty: 7.2% (5th lowest)

Connecticut is among the wealthiest states in the country. Median income was $64,032, compared to the national median income of $50,046, and 10.3% of households earned over $200,000 a year, the second-highest proportion among all states in the U.S. Despite this wealth, the median contribution to charity by those earning over $50,000 was just $1,916 per year — the seventh-lowest figure nationally. Residents may be deterred from giving to charity by a higher tax burden, as 12% of income went to state and local taxes, the third-highest nationally. Connecticut also had the fourth-highest cost of living in the U.S.

5. Rhode Island
> Pct. of income donated: 3.1%
> Total charitable contributions: $351 million (8th lowest)
> Median contribution: $1,666 (5th lowest)
> Pct. households $200,000+ income: 5.4% (13th highest)
> Pct. families in poverty: 9.2% (20th lowest)

More than 30% of Rhode Islanders filed a charitable contribution on their income taxes. But of filers making $50,000 or more the median contribution was just $1,666, or 3.1% of discretionary income. The state continues to struggle with an economy that has been in decline for some time. The state’s 10.8% unemployment rate in July is the second-highest in the U.S. and well above the national rate of 8.3%. Rhode Island also has among the highest cost of living and the fifth-highest state and local tax burden, at 10.7%. Rhode Island’s 32% weekly rate attendance at churches, synagogues or mosques is higher than most of its New England peers, but about 20 percentage points below many of the most generous states.

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4. Massachusetts
> Pct. of income donated: 2.8%
> Total charitable contributions: $3.1 billion (14th highest)
> Median contribution: $1,652 (4th lowest)
> Pct. households $200,000+ income: 9% (4th highest)
> Pct. families in poverty: 8.2% (13th lowest)

Massachusetts residents are hardly poor. The state’s $62,072 annual median income was more than $10,000 more than the national median. And just three states had a higher proportion of residents who earned over $200,000 a year than Massachusetts. Still, residents earning $50,000 or more gave just 2.8% of their discretionary income to charity. Limited religious participation may contribute to this, as just 29% of individuals surveyed by Gallup reported they frequently attended religious services. Another deterrent may be Massachusetts’ 10% state and local tax burden, which was one of the nation’s highest.

3. Vermont
> Pct. of income donated: 2.8%
> Total charitable contributions: $166 million (2nd lowest)
> Median contribution: $1,548 (3rd lowest)
> Pct. households $200,000+ income: 3.9% (22nd highest)
> Pct. families in poverty: 8.4% (14th lowest)

While the state’s median household income is just slightly lower than the national median, only 21.4% of the population filed for a charitable contribution on their taxes, one of the lowest percentage in the country. For those who did file and made more than $50,000, the median contribution was only $1,548, which is less than one-third of the median contribution of most generous state. While the state and local tax burden of 10.2% is the eighth highest in the U.S., religion could explain this discrepancy. Only 23% of the population reported going regularly to church, synagogue or mosque, the lowest of all 50 states.

2. Maine
> Pct. of income donated: 2.8%
> Total charitable contributions: $308 million (6th lowest)
> Median contribution: $1,403 (the lowest)
> Pct. households $200,000+ income: 2.8% (7th lowest)
> Pct. families in poverty: 8.8% (15th lowest)

Among Mainers earning in excess of $50,000 a year, the median contribution to charity was just $1,403, the lowest figure nationally by nearly $100. Residents are not especially wealthy; the state’s median household income was only $45,815, well below the $50,046 national median. Additionally 16.2% of households received food stamps, the sixth-highest figure nationwide. Meanwhile, just 2.8% of households earned more than $200,000, far less than the 5.1% who did nationally. Despite these figures, Maine had a state and local tax burden of 10.1% of per capita income, a higher figure than wealthier states such as Massachusetts and Maryland.

1. New Hampshire
> Pct. of income donated: 2.5%
> Total charitable contributions: $409 million (11th lowest)
> Median contribution: $1,497 (2nd lowest)
> Pct. households $200,000+ income: 5.7% (12th highest)
> Pct. families in poverty: 5.3% (the lowest)

The percentage of residents filing for charitable contributions in New Hampshire, 26.7%, was much less than many other New England States such as Connecticut (36.3%), Massachusetts (32.5%) and Rhode Island (30.1%). Unlike many of the least generous states, New Hampshire residents can’t claim they pay higher taxes than most. The state and local tax burden of 8% was the seventh lowest in the U.S. In addition, while the state had the 10th highest cost of living, states such as Connecticut and New Jersey had higher costs of living while also giving more to charity. Like many states, the tie between charitable contribution and religion is apparent — only 26% of New Hampshire residents reported going to church, synagogue or mosque weekly, the second-lowest rate in the country.

Michael B. Sauter, Lisa Uible, Samuel Weigley and Alexander E. M. Hess