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Survey finds those who donate to churches give more to all charities

By Tracy Early
Catholic News Service

A national survey has found that people who give to support the religious life of churches and comparable bodies of non-Christian religions also give more to charities than do others.

And people who give volunteer service to religious bodies do more volunteer work for charities, the survey found.

Sponsors of the survey said it demonstrated that religious institutions and other nonprofit groups should not see themselves as competitors in seeking gifts of money and time, but as beneficiaries of a common base of religiously motivated givers.

The survey was a project of Independent Sector, a Washington-based agency that has a membership of more than 700 philanthropic bodies and seeks to "foster private initiative for the public good."

Survey results and responses from church and other philanthropic perspectives were presented June 27 in New York.

Concluding the presentation, the Rev. Robert W. Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches and an Independent Sector board member, appealed for the religious community, government, foundations, corporate philanthropic programs and other sectors of society to not be afraid of working together, but to build partnerships.

In the foreword to a printed report on the survey, he said that religious leaders promoted the sharing of resources "as an article of faithful witness and a matter of responsible living."

"The findings of this study offer evidence that such lessons are instructive to congregants in heretofore unrecognized proportions," he said.

For the study, Independent Sector engaged another agency, Westat Inc., to conduct telephone interviews with 4,216 adult Americans in the period May to July 2001.

They were asked about their giving in 2000 and about their volunteering habits over the previous 12 months.

Survey results were presented in terms of "households," and Christopher Toppe, senior analyst for Independent Sector, said the term applied to single adults living alone as well as to couples, couples with children or other groupings.

Analyzing the contributions of these households, the report showed relationships between giving to "religious congregations" and to "secular organizations."

But Toppe said "secular" in this case covered all gifts for charitable work beyond the religious congregation itself, even if this work was carried out by religiously-sponsored agencies such as Catholic Charities, parochial schools or the Salvation Army.

The survey found that 11.7 percent of the households did not give at all, 8.6 per cent gave only to religious congregations, 27.7 percent gave to secular organizations only and 52 percent gave to both.

"Of givers to religious congregations, over 85 percent also support secular organizations, providing three-quarters of the philanthropic support those other organizations receive," the report said.

It also said households that gave to both religious and secular organizations averaged a total donation of $2,247 in 2000, including $958 to secular entities. The latter figure was more than the $623 average contributed by households that gave only to secular organizations.

These patterns were found consistently among all income groups and all regions, the report said.

The report also said the same "influence of faith" extended to volunteer service, and reported that those who attended religious services regularly, 29 percent of those surveyed, contributed "nearly 70 percent of the hours volunteered each month."

"Overall, secular volunteers average 14.1 hours per month of volunteering activity, while religious volunteers only average 10.4 hours," the report said. "However, those who volunteer at both religious and secular organizations average a total of 23 hours per month -- 13.7 to other causes and 9.3 to religion."

"Many of us knew this, but now we have hard data," said Sara E. Melendez, president of Independent Sector, at the New York presentation.

She also expressed hope that the research findings would influence current discussions of faith-based initiatives and help show ways all sectors of society could work together in addressing national needs.

Harris Wofford, former senator from Pennsylvania and now chairman of America's Promise: The Alliance for Youth, said the study could be useful in overcoming suspicion about religious indoctrination. The first base of support for charitable programs can be found in religious congregations, he said.

The Rev. W. Wilson Goode, a former mayor of Philadelphia who is involved in a program providing mentors for children whose parents are in prison, said religious congregations were a primary source of these mentors.

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Editor's Note: Copies of the report, "Faith & Philanthropy: The Connection Between Charitable Behavior and Giving to Religion," are available from Independent Sector Publications Center, P.O. Box 343, Waldorf, MD 20604, for $19.95 plus $4.50 shipping and handling (plus sales tax for residents of Maryland and the District of Columbia).