The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently released research on charitable giving among states. As a native of Massachusetts who has worked at several non-profits, I was confident Massachusetts would place high on the list where I could be proud. After all, doesn’t Massachusetts always seem to fall somewhere in the best 20% of all those research polls, from income, to education to job prospects.
I was disappointed, and honestly felt shocked, to find Massachusetts and the rest of the New England states to be the 6 least philanthropic states. People in New England give the smallest percentage of their income to charity, on average 2.8% of their income goes charity.
Compare that to the most philanthropic states: Utah at 10.6% and Mississippi at 7.2%. Georgia, Arkansas, Idaho, South Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama all give between 6-7%. With the exception of Idaho, these states are all considered among the ten most religious states in the US and many of them are comparatively poor states. It is common practice among Mormons to give 10% of their income to the Church, which helps explain Utah’s high rate of philanthropy.
Conversely, New England states are placed in the ten least religious states in the US.
While religious conviction is certainly an important piece of the puzzle, personally I am still disappointed at Massachusetts and the rest of New England’s poor standing. It seems to me an explanation for our entire region’s dismal philanthropic rating may be something in our regional identity, culture, and experience. More than a relative lack of religious incentive to give, what is the evident reluctance to give, even if we don’t have much to give?
I truly believe that philanthropy isn’t about money. It’s about a desire to commit oneself to the betterment of the world around you. Wealthy people may have the financial means to make clear and discernible impacts, but I have the means to transform my community for the better too! With my time and the money I can spare, I can serve my community and advocate for its needs.
I don’t think there’s a single answer to this question, but I will start paying sharper attention to myself, my friends, my colleagues, and people on the street. What makes me want to give, my money or my time? When my friends and I talk about the problems our society faces, do we mention engaging in any philanthropic efforts to solve them? How often do I see strangers giving, or just being kind and engaging with one another?
I will start searching, and I hope you will join me, and perhaps we can learn to understand ourselves and our regional lack of philanthropy. Only then will we be able to better engage ourselves and our communities in philanthropic efforts.