Charitable Giving: These Are Most and Least Generous States. But Why?

Earlier this month, released a graphic showing the most and least generous states. Since then, personal finance writers -- myself included -- have struggled to find a pattern that helps explain why some states give so much to the less fortunate, while others give so little.

But, while some theories help explain a small portion of the map, there hasn't been any theory to completely account for why people in some states give and those in others don't.

First, the map:

The most obvious outlier is also the easiest to explain: Utah, with a 10.6% charitable giving rate, is far and away the most generous state in the union. It also has the highest proportion of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the union. (More than half the population self-identifies as Mormon, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.) The church's tithing requirement, in which members are expected to donate 10 percent of their income, goes a long way toward explaining Utah's impressive generosity.

This factor also may also help explain the relatively high generosity of at least one other state: Idaho has a very high percentage of LDS members -- and also ranks among the 10 most generous states.

But what of the rest of the union? One correlation to consider is state taxes: Of the ten states with the highest tax rates, four are among the chintziest when it comes to charity. On the other hand, of the states with the lowest overall tax rates, only one hits the top ten when it comes to charitable giving. In other words, when it comes to generosity, there seems to be almost no linkage to state tax burden.

Another angle might be unionization: All but one of the most generous states also have right-to-work (anti-union) policies; Nine of the 10 least generous states don't. Geography also seems to play a part: Eight of the 10 most generous states -- Maryland, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma -- are located south of the Mason-Dixon Line. All eight of the least generous were in the North.

Ultimately, though, Utah may give the best glimpse into the way that charity works in America. Early in 2012, Gallup released a poll ranking the most religious and least religious states in the union. Of the most religious, only two -- Louisiana and North Carolina -- were not among the most generous. Conversely, of the 10 least religious, five were among the least generous.

In other words, when it comes to giving to others, it looks like the shortest way to an American's heart may be through the collection plate.

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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The difference between conservatives and leftists is that conservatives believe SOCIETY should help the poor and unfortunate through generous private donations - like Carnegie who built libraries. 2,509 Carnegie libraries were built between 1883 and 1929, including some belonging to public and university library systems. 1,689 were built in the United States, 660 in Britain and Ireland, 125 in Canada, and others in Australia, New Zealand, Serbia, the Caribbean, Mauritius and Fiji. All were given free private grants to build libraries who requested them. Future giving is tied to measured results so it is effective and efficient.
Leftists believe the GOVERNMENT should demand people give money backed by the threat that government will show up with SWAT teams and take money from families and business for the "social good.," regardless of how much damage it causes to those businesses and families - and then redistribute it incestuously to their own political cronies. It's like taking buckets of water out of the deep end of the pool, running around the neighborhood with the buckets, and pouring it into the shallow end, hoping the level will rise. Water is wasted all over the neighborhood (which the Democrats call redistribution)- and there's less water in the pool (the total economy contracts, which we are seeing today). Results are not measured and the money flows unhindered regardless of outcome.

January 25 2013 at 12:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Funny how you don't see huffnpuff and the left media all over this study.

January 24 2013 at 5:43 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Reason the analysts aren't figuring out the pattern is because they aren't looking at the right place. The northern states give less in "charity", because they ALREADY are giving as much as 40% of their federal tax dollars to the South. Surprise, surprise

For example, Utah gets back an extra BILLION each year above what they send to Washington. Meanwhile, Illinois LOSES an extra $34 BILLION and California an extra $69 BILLION EACH YEAR to mainly southern Red states. No wonder they can charge less state taxes!

Meanwhile, Mississippi, listed as one of the top ten most charitable, spends TWICE the federal tax dollars they send to DC. Meaning, they receive back an extra $11 BILLION EACH YEAR from Blue states.

They get to choose their charities. Our charities are the Red states, and we don't get to unchoose them.

January 24 2013 at 3:02 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to threefromil's comment

They should do the same study but also base it on mean income. I think you will find high percentages of giving in states like MS, AL and LA.

January 23 2013 at 10:04 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

the Catholic church actually does help other a lot. But they still pocket the biggest share. As do the Mormons, and Jewish charities. Hell, we all know they are all out for themselves. When your minster or Rabbi or what ever lives in a 3 million dollar home and drives 2 or 3 Mercedes:: Only an idiot would continue to give.

January 23 2013 at 9:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Because red states give to charities and blue states have the government take it from them because the government knows how to spend it better than the dumbo's in the blue states

January 23 2013 at 9:39 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
P S Duesterdick

My U.S. Senator, Mrs. Gillibrand, used to work for a high powered law firm in NYC. When she disclosed her tax returns there was a year where she made a little less than $600,000 and gave less than $1,000 to charities. But remember, she wanted to go to Washington to help her constituents, which thusfar has consisted of raising taxes so that she can help redistribute other people's money. Be vary of cheapskate politicians that tell you that they want to help but only want to help with other people's resources!

January 23 2013 at 8:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And yet another useless list.

January 23 2013 at 8:22 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

An almost identical map where you can expect help from a lay person (aside from police) in case of crime. Interesting. Generosity and "getting involved" are probably synonymous.

January 23 2013 at 7:20 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

Counting Tithing isn't appropriate for charity. With most Christian churches, 10% is expected for a minimum. Count donations outside of churches for charity, and then we'll see how the map changes.

January 23 2013 at 6:47 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply