Locals Say The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Giving Report Deserves a Second LookBy Kate McGovern |
A report released last week rated the region mediocre at charitable giving, but some stakeholders say it’s important to consider the data with religious donations stripped out — a perspective that drastically improves Pennsylvania’s ranking.
Philadelphia County residents donate 5.6 percent of their discretionary income to charitable organizations, coming in 968th out of 3,115 counties, according to the report, “How America Gives.” The Philadelphia metropolitan area gives 4 percent, which ranks it 261st out of 366.
The results appear to get worse at the state level: Pennsylvania residents give only 3.9 percent of their income to charity, putting the state in 40th place out of 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Removing religion from the picture
However, when you take out donations to religious groups, the state appears much more generous. In fact, Pennsylvania moves up to fourth place nationally.
The report’s author, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, pointed this out in an analysis of the report. “Religion has a big influence on giving patterns,” it wrote. “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.”
When that factor is removed, it becomes clear that Pennsylvania is good at secular giving, said Eileen Heisman, president and CEO of the National Philanthropic Trust in Jenkintown, Pa. That “means we’re giving to all kinds of things, which, to me, is the hallmark of giving,” she said.
Heisman noted that she doesn’t view secular giving as more desirable than religious giving; rather, she said she questions whether tithing is necessarily the measure of great philanthropy.
Fourth place in secular donations is “terrific,” she said. “I think we’re in great shape.”
Marion Leary, president and founder of Sink or Swim Philadelphia, agreed. The results are “incredibly impressive,” she said. “We should absolutely be proud” of the fourth place ranking.
Sink or Swim assists individuals who are uninsured and underinsured with medical expenses. And while the organization has been around for only a year, Leary said she is impressed with the generosity she’s seen. “I think Philadelphians are incredibly generous and want to support each other with the financial means that they have.”
Trends remain to be seen
When the Chronicle conducted a similar report in 2003 — using data from 1997 — it determined that Philadelphia gave 7.4 percent of its discretionary income to charitable organizations.
Philadelphia is not alone in the decline: Detroit residents topped the list in 1997 by donating 12.1 percent of their discretionary income. Now, they give 4.4 percent.
However, the drop in giving is no reason for panic, say the experts. “You can’t look at trends until we have 4 or 5 years” of data, Heisman said. She explained that this year’s results could be skewed downward by the recent recession. The current report is based on tax deductions from 2008, which is generally considered the height of the recession.
Nonetheless, it’s “exciting to have this data,” she said. “We have some kind of yard stick now.”blog comments powered by Disqus