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Top 10 Most Generous States

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A new study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy has found a huge divide in generosity across the country.

In some states, typical households donated more than 7% of their discretionary income, while in others the norm was less than 3%. A similar pattern held in the 50 largest metropolitan areas.

The study charted giving patterns in 2008 in every state, city and ZIP code, based on the most recent available IRS records of Americans who itemized their deductions.

Researchers focused on taxpayers who earned $50,000 or more in 2008.These taxpayers contributed a median of 4.7% of their discretionary income to charity—$135 billion of the $214 billion donated by all individuals in 2008.

Other findings:

  • Middle-class households gave a much larger share of their discretionary income to charitable causes than wealthy ones
  • People making more than $200,000 a year who lived in diverse neighborhoods were more generous than their counterparts who lived in wealthy neighborhoods
  •  “Red” states were more generous than “blue” states
  • Tax incentives significantly influenced giving

The study found that religion powerfully influenced giving patterns across the country. Deeply religious locales were more generous than those that were less religious.

Among the 10 most generous states, two had large Mormon populations, and seven were located in the Bible Belt.

However, the geography changed dramatically when religious giving was factored out. For example, when secular gifts alone were counted, New York leapt to the no. 2 most generous state from no. 18, and Pennsylvania zoomed up to no. 4 from no. 40.

Following are the 10 most generous states in the Chronicle’s survey.


10. Maryland

The typical Maryland household donated 5.7% of its discretionary income to charity in 2008. The state ranked 11th in terms of total charitable contributions—$3.8 billion.

Raleigh, capitol of North Carolina. 

9. North Carolina

The average North Carolina household contributed 5.9% of its discretionary income to charity in 2008. The state was ninth in total contributions—$4.3 billion—and the Charlotte metropolitan area ranked sixth in generosity among the country’s largest urban areas.

Atlanta at sunset

8. Georgia

Georgia households contributed 6.2% of discretionary income on average to charity in 2008. Atlanta ranged fifth in generosity among the 50 biggest metropolitan areas. Three of the nation’s 20 largest nonprofits—the American Cancer Society, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Habitat for Humanity International—are located in the state.

Aerial view of Little Rock. (Photo: AP)

7. Arkansas

Arkansans donated 6.3% of their discretionary income on average to charity in 2008. The estimated median contribution of $3,554 placed the state in the top five nationally.

Idaho Potato mascot. (Photo: AP)

6. Idaho

Idaho households, a large number of which are Mormon, gave 6.4% of their discretionary income to charity in 2008. In addition, 32% of its residents reported that they had volunteered with a nonprofit group, well above the national rate of 26%.

Sign for Myrtle Beach, S.C.

5. South Carolina

South Carolinians donated on average about 6.4% of their discretionary income. The state is home to two charities in the Philanthropy 400, Christian Blind Mission International and the University of South Carolina.

Memphi, Tenn., at night

4. Tennessee

A typical Tennessee household gave 6.6% of its discretionary income to charitable causes in 2008. Memphis was the second-most generous urban area among the 50 biggest ones, and Nashville ranked fourth.

The capitol in Montgomery, Ala. (Photo: AP)

3. Alabama

Alabama households donated an average of 7.1% of discretionary income to charities in 2008. Their generosity benefited a relatively small number of nonprofit organizations, as the state has only 0.7 registered nonprofits per 1,000 residents, the seventh-lowest rate in the country.

Visitor center in Hattiesburg, Miss.

2. Mississippi

The average Mississippi household donated 7.2% of discretionary income to charitable causes in 2008.

Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City. (Photo: AP)

1. Utah

The Mormon tradition of tithing is a main reason the state outpaced every other place in America. The typical Utah household claimed charitable contributions totaling 10.6% of discretionary income in 2008—well ahead of no. 2 Mississippi. Salt Lake City was the most generous urban area among the country’s 50 largest. Utah also claimed top spot for volunteering, with a 45% rate among residents in 2008.

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