Digging Deeper: Americans Giving More to Charities in 2015

December 15, 2015

More Americans want to help others, and a recent Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu) survey shows that respondents are donating more to charities in 2015.

“People feel compelled to do something,” said Dr. Nancy Wood, Saint Leo University associate chair of human services, “whether that is donating money or donating time and volunteering.” Wood teaches at the Gainesville Education Center.

Giving back to the community unites Americans, Wood said. “It’s helping my neighborhood out, getting back to the traditional ‘it takes a village,’" she said.

More than 1,000 people were surveyed online from November 29 through December 3, 2015. The poll has a plus or minus 3.0 percent margin of error. Within that group, the answers were sorted by specific religious groups with non-Catholic Americans included as well.

While 14.1 percent surveyed said they do not donate to charities and 15.9 percent indicated they would give less in 2015 than in 2014, 61 percent said they are giving more or the same this year. And 24.3 percent of Catholics surveyed said they will donate more to charity.

In the overall poll, respondents indicated whether Pope Francis’ encouragement of Americans to do more for the environment, refugees, immigrants, charities, and those in need prompted them to donate more or give the same.

The results showed that many national respondents were inspired by Pope Francis and will donate:

  • To environmental groups – 13 percent will give or give more
  • To own place of worship – 12.8 percent will give or give more
  • To charities (in general) – 14.9 percent will give or give more
  • To refugee/immigrant causes – 9.9 percent will give or give more
  • To “Right to Life” organizations – 12.2 percent will give or give more
  • To Human Rights Groups – 13.1 percent will give or give more

Among U.S. Catholics polled, whom Dr. Marc Pugliese said are influenced by their religion to act charitably, giving to specific causes was even greater:

  • To environmental groups – 21.4 percent will give or give more
  • To own place of worship – 19.4 percent will give or give more
  • To charities (in general) – 23.3 percent will give or give more
  • To refugee/immigrant causes – 15.0 percent will give or give more
  • To “Right to Life” organizations – 17.5 percent will give or give more
  • To Human Rights Groups – 22.3 percent will give or give more

“Clearly, the pope had the most influence on Catholics,” said Dr. Pugliese, Saint Leo University assistant professor of religion and theology in Virginia. “And Catholics already give; it is natural to their religion. And they were most influenced by the pope.”

Anecdotally, Dr. Pugliese said he is seeing Catholics who are making changes in their lives because of the pope’s influence.

“The changes are real and long-lasting,” he said. “People have decided to go back to church. There are a lot of factors involved, but they feel this pope is more welcoming and nonjudgmental.”

Pope Francis’ popularity remained high, according to the recent Saint Leo poll, as 70 percent of those surveyed said they had a very or somewhat favorable opinion of the pope. In a September Saint Leo poll, favorable opinion of Pope Francis was 75.8 percent. That poll was timed to coincide with the pope’s visit to the United States. His popularity dipped in Saint Leo’s October poll with 66.4 percent saying they had a favorable opinion, but increased with the December poll.

An improved economy in Florida is helping some to give, said Dr. Susan Kinsella, department chair of human services at Saint Leo University, who is based at the Savannah Education Center.

“This is the one area, that if you have a little extra money, you’re going to give it to charities,” Dr. Kinsella added.

For more detailed poll results and news releases, see http://polls.saintleo.edu.