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A new look at Giving Tuesday: More give to religion than realize it

First Published      Last Updated Dec 03 2013 07:04 pm

This is Giving Tuesday, when nonprofits of every stripe hope to attract some of the billions to be spent during the Hanukkah and Christmas seasons.

Many of those dollars will go to religious groups. Now, new research is expanding the meaning of "religious giving." It counts motivation for giving and measures not only gifts to houses of worship but also donations to faith-connected nonprofits that are doing secular service such as fighting poverty or offering job training for the disabled.

"Most people cite their religious commitments, but most also cite the belief that they should give to benefit others. Many people hold both these impulses at the same time," said Shawn Landres, a co-author of the research report, "Connected to Give: Faith Communities."

The report, released at the recent American Academy of Religion conference in Baltimore, found that in 2012:

• 63 percent of all Americans donated to some kind of cause, charity or philanthropy.

• 71 percent of those donors gave both to religious groups (including congregations) and to nonreligious organizations.

• Any given follower of one religious tradition is no more likely to give to charity than a follower of another faith.

Differences in the likelihood of giving are due more to variations in household income, education and age, said Landres.

When the study looked at amounts donated overall in 2012, researchers found:

• The median amount given among all donors was $660.

• 41 percent of all household dollars donated went to religious congregations.

• 32 percent of donated dollars went to religiously identified nonprofits such as Catholic Charities or Jewish Federation or small programs such as the University Muslim Medical Association Community Clinic in Los Angeles, Landres said.

This aligns with research by Calvin College sociologist Jonathan Hill, who studies religion and financial generosity.

"Giving is a transferable habit that happens to be cultivated in religious settings," Hill said at the recent Society for the Scientific Study of Religion conference in Boston.

But the "Connected to Give" report also cites generosity thriving among people who claim no religious identity: 34 percent of these "nones" nonetheless give to religiously identified organizations.

Until now, most studies have defined "religious giving" as donations to religious congregations for specifically religious activities. It didn't count as "religious giving" if you gave to a church's soup kitchen, say, or to a combined-purpose group doing secular work such as the evangelical relief group World Vision.

The label also wouldn't have covered several of the projects listed in the ninth annual "Slingshot Guide" — a handbook of nonprofit programs and projects that reflect Jewish values of prayer, study and good works. It was created to appeal to young Jews who often don't participate in traditional Jewish philanthropic institutions.

The 2013-14 edition of the "Slingshot Guide" includes programs such as Innovation: Africa, which uses Israeli technology to bring "light, refrigerated medicine and clean water to nearly half a million Africans," and the Sunflower Bakery in Gaithersburg, Md., where people with disabilities learn job skills baking kosher pastries.

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