Over the holidays, many people gave back to their communities by donating goods or services to their favorite charitable organizations. This annual “giving season” is a crucial time for many nonprofits, so much so that a 2011 Nonprofit Fundraising Survey reported that half of the surveyed nonprofits received one quarter of their contributions between October and December. Typically, individual households, rather than private corporations or businesses, are the main contributors. In fact, individual giving to the nonprofit sector amounted to $258 billion in 2014.
Research suggests that people with greater education and financial resources, as well as extended social networks, are more likely to give to charities. However, the appearance of increased generosity among people with large social networks may be the result of simply receiving more solicitations for donations or strong ties to religious social networks that promote charitable giving. Likewise, individuals who are more involved in civic organizations and report higher levels of social (i.e. neighbors, co-workers) and racial trust are also more likely to give.
- Pamala Wiepking and Ineke Maas. 2009. Resources That Make You Generous: Effects of Social and Human Resources on Charitable Giving. Social Forces 87(4).
- Arthur Brooks. 2005. Does Social Capital Make You Generous? Social Science Quarterly 86 (1): 1-15.
Religious identification is strongly related to giving to religious charities, as might be expected, but families that increase their religious giving also tend to increase their secular giving. However, some religious denominations are more prone to secular giving than others. People belonging to denominations with centrally-controlled charities (such as Mormons) may be more likely to view their religious donations as a substitution for other secular charities than people who are affiliated with denominations whose charities are less financially structured (such as Baptists). Further, secular and religious causes often compete for our time and resources, and so giving to and volunteering for religious charities can reduce secular giving simply due to time constraints and competing commitments. However, in general, religious and secular giving are complements rather than substitutes for one another.
- Namkee G. Cho and Diana M Dinnitto. 2012. Predictors of Time Volunteering, Religious Giving, and Secular Giving: Implications for Nonprofit Organizations. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare 39 (2): 93-120.
- Penny Edgell Becker and Pawan Dhingra. 2001. Religious Involvement and Volunteering: Implications for Civil Society. Sociology of Religion 62: 315-335.
- Jonathan P. Hill and Brandon Vaidyanathan. 2011. Substitution or Symbiosis? Assessing the Relationship between Religious and Secular Giving. Social Forces 90(1): 157-180.
Want to know more about the social science of charitable behavior? Check out this TROT for a summary of research on the psychological and sociological predictors of volunteering.