Political Contributions Have Little Impact on Charitable Giving

Dunham+Company Survey Shows Most Don’t Contribute to Campaigns

October 5, 2008

Although the economic downturn continues to have an impact on giving, a poll conducted in late September shows some encouraging signs for charities.

Wilson Research Strategies did the polling for Dunham+Company, which serves the media management, marketing and fundraising needs of Christian ministries. Download full study

“The fear that the political campaigns would add to the financial woes of charities by dramatically impacting giving is unfounded,” said Rick Dunham, the company’s president and CEO. “There is a greater likelihood, however, that charities supported by those who lean liberal or Democratic could feel some impact.”

With the election less than a month away, many charities are nervous that the presidential campaigns could cut into giving to their organizations. However, the study found that nearly 8 in 10 (78 percent) of Americans say they will not contribute to the political campaigns in the coming weeks. In the key giving demographic of adults 55-64 years old, nearly 9 in 10 (85 percent) say they won’t contribute. And of those who do say they will contribute to the political campaigns, 63 percent say it won’t limit their giving to charity.

The findings did show, however, that roughly 1 in 3 Democrats (30 percent) said they would give to the political campaign, as opposed to only 1 in 5, or 21 percent, of those who identified themselves as Republicans. Forty-three percent of Democrats who do give to the political campaign say it will affect their giving to charity.

And two out of three Americans (66 percent) say they will give the same or more to charities in the upcoming months, with more than 7 in 10 (71 percent) of those who frequent religious services saying the same. Only 22 percent of frequent attendees of religious services say they will decrease their giving to charities in coming months while 33 percent of infrequent attendees say they will decrease their giving.

Fifty-seven percent of those who describe themselves as non-religious say they will continue to give at their current levels.

“There is potential good news for ministries and religious not-for-profits in that more strongly religious Americans — as measured by religious participation rates — are less likely to reduce their giving in the coming months than are Americans who are less actively religious,” Dunham said. “This may allow ministries and religious organizations to weather these tough times better than more secular organizations.”

Nearly half of Americans (46 percent) say that the economy has affected their giving to charity, mirroring a similar study in late spring. The area of the country feeling this impact the most is the Deep South, where 53 percent of respondents indicated they had decreased their giving to charity. By contrast, only 38 percent of respondents in the Farm Belt States and 31 percent in the Mountain States indicated the same.

The commitment to charitable giving is apparent in the Mountain States, where one in five say they plan to give more to charity, twice as many as in the general population. In New England, 41 percent of the survey’s respondents say they will give less. That’s much greater than the national average – nearly one-quarter of Americans say they will reduce their giving in the upcoming months due to the economic downturn.

Some underlying distinctions in the general population are important. First, 57 percent of women between the ages of 45 and 64 report that their giving has been affected by the economic climate while only 46 percent of the at-large population report their charitable donations have been affected.  Second, self-described liberals are similarly likely to report that their giving has been affected with 51 percent reporting that the current economic climate has adversely affected their donations.

Younger donors are not more likely to give more, as other studies have indicated, but donors in the 45-54 age range, a key giving demographic, indicate they are nearly 40 percent more likely to increase their giving than the average American. The main giving demographic of adults 55-64 indicate they are more likely to continue giving at their current levels and less likely to cut back.

This study was part of Wilson Research Strategies September Omnibus Study of 1,000 adults nationwide.  All respondents were contacted via Random Digit Dialing methodology. Interviews were conducted via live telephone interviewer September 26-30, 2008.  A sample of 1,000 has a margin of error of +/-3.1 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.