Surprising Facts About Charity in America

Over the holidays I found myself reading Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism by Arthur C. Brooks.  Some article I read lead me to this book and it is an eye-opening must read

Arthur C. Brooks is a Seattle native, currently living in Syracuse, New York and is the President of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.  He was raised liberal and is a self-proclaimed independent.  This is noteworthy because his findings on who gives to charity and who doesn’t in America is not very flattering to liberals.  Brooks himself was so shocked by the data his research yielded that he re-ran his analysis and gathered new data.  as he says, “nothing worked.  In the end, I had no option but to change my views.”

Here are just a few of Brooks’s findings:

  • “The working poor in America give more of their money – not less – to charity than middle class people.”
  • Religious Conservatives “are as charitable, or more so, than any other part of the population, including to secular causes.”
  • “Secular liberals are poor givers.”  “They give away less than a third as much money as religious conservatives, and about half as much as the population in general, despite having higher average incomes than either group.  They are 12 points less likely to volunteer than religious conservatives, and they volunteer only about half as often.  They are less generous than others in many informal ways as well.  For example, they are significantly less likely than the population average to return excess change mistakenly given to them by a cashier.”

Are you shocked? 

I was and wasn’t.  I’ve personally had the experience of sitting at a charity function at a table with 8 other attorneys and been the only person (I’m counting Jim and me as one here) in the group to “raise the paddle” to give money to that charity even though I made less that the other 8 people at the table, the charity was not one in which I am actively involved, and the remaining 8 persons are self-professed democrats.  Huh?  So I wasn’t particularly shocked about the secular liberal finding (although I do know exceptions to this rule). 

The fascinating part of Brooks’s findings is the why.  Why does the working poor give more?  Why do liberals give less money to charity?  Why does this all matter?

I also found that after reading this book, the way I thought subtly changed.  On a flight back from Vegas someone from the flight before had left a unopened, gift-wrapped box of cookies on her seat.  Did the person who sat at that seat turn them over to the flight attendant, even though we were 15 minutes from take-off and they could have been sent into the terminal?  NO.  She loudly marveled about her good luck and kept them.  When we arrived in Seattle, SHE TOOK THEM HOME!  I sat there – appalled – and thought, “she must be a secular liberal.”

Please take a look at Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism and let me know what you think.  I would love to hear your take-aways from this book.

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13 Responses

  1. This is of course very interesting but not really surprising in today’s culture. In general we are taking less care of our society and pay more and more of a price for it each year. It really doesn’t matter who you are in the definitions used in the book, the bottom line is we all should be out spending time fixing problems in our communities and making sure everyone has a chance. We all win.

    Thanks Sara. When I am having a tough day I open the bookmark to the piece you wrote about my cancer activities. It reminds me of what I can do as just one person.

    Jason

  2. I do wonder about the wealthy who give, not because they are generous souls who care, so that they don’t have to pay as much in taxes. While Brooks may be a self-proclaimed independent, the American Enterprise Institute is a fairly right-leaning organization (has anyone heard of ‘neo-conservatism’?). Also, what do you do about – GASP – religious liberals?!

    • Religious liberals are the second most likely group to give and volunteer. The book is written in a very objective manner.

      Re the weatlhy who give for tax benefits: the tax incentive to donate is so miniscule and is phased out almost completely (like all itemized deductions) at the upper income levels so I think taxes have little to do with upper income giving but even if it does, do we care? I’m happy that people give no matter what the reason.

      What I find the most fascinating tidbit of the few points I posted is that the working poor give more % of income wise than the middle class and yet no one has commented on that fact . . . interesting.

  3. I am not surprised, at all.

    P.s…the more I read of your blog, the more I like it!

  4. Wow…this is fascinating. I know a lot of wealthy people that give…but I know quite a few that are very stingy. It is hard to understand why people give more than others. All I know is that I want to make 2011 a year in which I give more to the charities I believe in. Thanks for sharing, my friend.

    • I have the same goal for 2011. Although I always pre-plan and dedicate a % of my gross income to charities every year the % is well below where I want it to be, and a goal for 2011 is to definitely increase that % as well as volunteer more.

  5. I saw a segment 20/20 made on this issue. The reason, they say, that conservatives give more to charity than liberals is because liberals expect the government to take care of people.

    The reason the working poor give more is because they are a step away from using those charities themselves and hope someone would give when they need it.

    Great review.

    http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

  6. As a secular liberal, I will ask how does the author know? My tax returns do not identify me as a secular liberal. I have never been asked if I am conservative or liberal in the countless hours I have volunteered.

    Does the author explain how/where he got his data?

    • Hi Jackie:

      He does explain all of his methodology and the data – which is extensive – is set forth in a 23-page appendix and in the 28-pages of endnotes. Sources include the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey (a joint effort by researchers at various American universities in collaboration with the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research and the Saguaro Seminar at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government), an annual national panel survey conducted by the Population Panel of Income Dynamics (1968 forward), the General Social Survey wihich has been administered by the National Opinion Research Center most years since 1972, Arts and Religion Survey conducted by Princeton Professor Robert Withnow and the Gallup Organization and many more.

  7. These findings are quite interesting, but I think the one that is most shocking but not surprising to me is the “secular liberal”, having known and associated with many of them they can be a fickle lot indeed.

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