The world’s major religions actively promote philanthropy by encouraging charitable actions that address such pressing issues as income inequality, hunger, homelessness, climate change, discrimination and injustice.
America’s religions do the same. In 1835, political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville observed, “Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.” Today, 80 percent of Americans formally identify with a religious tradition.
Connected to Give: Faith Communities is a recently published study that takes a closer look at the ways religious and spiritual values fuel philanthropy in the United States. The study concludes:
A donor’s identification with any religious tradition increases charitable giving — and not just to the organizations identified with the donor’s particular religious or spiritual identification. While congregational giving remains a cornerstone of giving for religiously identified Americans, the more connected they are to their faith community, the more likely they are to support a wide variety of charitable causes.”
The comprehensive look at U.S. giving patterns, published by philanthropy-research organization Jumpstart Labs, also uncovered these findings:
- Seventy-three percent of American giving goes to organizations with religious ties: religious congregations (41 percent) as well as religiously identified organizations or RIOs (32 percent) such as Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army or American Jewish World Service that pursue a variety of charitable purposes.
- While most charitable dollars flow to RIOs, more individuals contribute to non-RIOs such as United Way, the arts and environmental groups.
- Most donors contribute to both RIOs and non-RIOs, not one or the other.
- People with religious or spiritual identifications give at higher rates, primarily because they give more to RIOs.
- Households affiliated with the five largest religious groups in the United States — Black Protestant, Evangelical Protestant, Jewish, Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic — give to charity at similar rates.
- Among Americans who donate, more than half say their commitment to religion is an important or very important motivation for charitable giving.
“Nonprofits that are not religiously identified should recognize that many of the donors who support them do so in a context of religious or spiritual values,” said study co-author Mark Ottoni-Wilhelm of Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
Co-author Shawn Landres, CEO of Jumpstart Labs, states:
Frequently lost in the conversations about strategic philanthropy, with its focus on metrics and outcomes, are the values that drive us to do good in the world. For most Americans, those values play out in a religious or spiritual context. Identifying and bringing our values to our philanthropy helps us stay focused on what really matters — the fundamental belief taught by all major religions that we are all in it together and that we are accountable to something greater than ourselves.”
By embracing and acting on the universal religious and spiritual value that we are all accountable to one another, or to a higher power that scrutinizes our “good Samaritan” behavior, philanthropic people could readily resolve many of the world’s most pressing problems.
Pope Francis, spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, recently said:
It is a well-known fact that current levels of production are sufficient, yet millions of people are still suffering and dying of starvation. This, dear friends, is truly scandalous. A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table, but above all to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being.”
In the course of history, religion has often been a tremendous divider of people. The Connected to Give study demonstrates that religion can also be a powerful uniter in support of the greater good. At a time of enormous needs, the values taught by the world’s religions can inspire, motivate and challenge us all to charitable action.
This post originally appeared in the Denver Post on Sunday, February 9, 2014. Reposted here by author with permission.