Last week, The Chronicle of Philanthropy released a report that looks into how charitable different parts of the country are. Taken from 2008 IRS tax returns (the most recent year made available), the report drilled down levels of generosity by state, county, and even zip codes. So the burning question for everyone in Massachusetts is, well, where did we rank?
By one measure – percent of income given – we ranked 4th to last, just above New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont. But why? Are people from Massachusetts really that stingy?
The median contribution – that is, the amount of money donated by a typical household to charity – given by Massachusetts residents was $1,652, or 2.8 percent of discretionary income.
Compare that with the $2,564 median contribution on a country-wide level, or 4.7 percent of discretionary income, and Massachusetts’ charitable image leaves a bit more to be desired.
According to Stacy Palmer, an editor for the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the disparity might have some correlation to religion.
“One of the things we found was that it was the Bible belt who gave the most, and the New England states that gave the least,” Palmer said in an interview with Radio Boston. “And that’s because religion is such an important factor in determining how much people give.”
For instance, in Utah – the home of the Mormon Church – the median income given to charity was 10.6 percent, with some towns contributing close to 14 percent of their discretionary income to charity, likely because of the Mormon tradition of tithing.
Another distinction the report made was in the difference between red states and blue states, with the study finding there’s a sharp difference between the charitable tendencies of liberals versus conservatives.
“The eight states that ranked highest in The Chronicle’s analysis voted for John McCain in the last presidential election, while the seven lowest-ranking states supported Barack Obama,” the report found.
However, while the blue Massachusetts may have ranked 4th to last in terms of median income given, if you looked at the amount of money Massachusetts residents contributed as a whole, we jump to 14th in the nation. As a state, Massachusetts residents gave a total of $3.1 billion in contributions.
“In Massachusetts we saw that people with incomes of $200,000 and up were more generous than that average amount,” Palmer explained, “and people who are in the $50,000-75,000 bracket also gave generously. It’s people in that $100,000 to $200,000 income category…who didn’t quite give as much.”
These findings echo those of a 2007 study conducted by the Center of Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College:
We have seen that the low percentages of income contributed are due mainly to lower- and middle-income households in Massachusetts in contrast to high-income households that gave more than most other households in comparable states.
So which ranking is correct? Are we 48th in philanthropy, or are we 14th? The answer is both. It just depends on what is being measured. In terms of contributions coming out of the state, Massachusetts ranks 14th. In terms of individual contributions from state residents, Massachusetts ranks 48th. The bottom line is this: next time someone asks if Masachusetts is charitable or stingy, the appropriate answer may be, simply, “yes.”