How America Gives

How America Gives

Peter Panepento from The Chronicle of Philanthropy joined us yesterday for the second session of our Online Fundraising Academy. He showed off an incredible tool on the Chronicle’s website which shares giving data by ZIP code and by income level in every city and town in the United States!

Session recording:

Session notes:

About Peter: Peter oversees The Chronicle’s online presence. He reports in depth on issues such as fund raising, endowments, cause-related marketing, donor-advised funds, and planned giving. Read Peter’s bio here.

How America Gives –

This project came about when The Chronicle discovered that the IRS had provided information about donations that Americans had claimed on their income taxes in 2008 broken down by income bracket and zip code.

  • The research examines more than 35.2 million tax returns;
  • In seven income brackets;
  • In >28,000 zip codes

The data accounts for more than $135 billion in charitable donations (out of about $214 billion in charitable giving in 2008).

Nationwide, the typical household gave $2,564, about 4.7% of their discretionary income, to charity in 2008.

The information is broken down in four ways:

  • Total contributions – Total amount given by all households (earning more than $50,000 a year) in each zip code
  • Median contribution – A typical household contribution to charity in a given community
  • Median discretionary income – Median income after taxes, housing, and living expenses have been paid
  • Percent given – The value of contributions divided by discretionary income

Each of these metrics are available to view:

  • By three different income brackets
  • By zip code, town, county, metro area, or state

The data set also includes demographic information such as race, age, and education level.

This data does not include:

  • Donations made by individuals who did not itemize their donations on their taxes
  • Information how donations were allocated (local organizations, churches, international organizations, universities, etc.)

Take some time to explore the tool on The Chronicle’s website. Get started here!

Why is this information valuable:

  • The data gives you greater insight into the typical charitable contribution by household in the communities that your supporters live in; you can better understand the potential for donation volume within the communities that you’re engaging.
  • This data can help you make smarter decisions about the donor communities that you’re targeting for your outreach. This might apply specifically to direct mail campaigns.
  • This data can help you better engage your existing volunteers, advocates, and board members in the U.S. You can use this information to help your supporters better understand the giving potential within the communities that they come from in and effort to help encourage them to conduct outreach on your behalf. 

Additional online fundraising data –

The Chronicle uses online fundraising data provided quarterly by Blackbaud, Network for Good, and PayPal to analyze online giving by time of day, day of the week, month gift size, and location. This information could be very useful for understanding when and how much people give.

Question & Answer

Question: Does this data include giving to churches?

Answer: Yes. Church giving is a very big percentage of what people donate every year. You can see some basic information about giving to secular causeshere.

Question: Is it possible to use this data to determine what people are giving to?

Answer: No. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to determine what people are giving to. However, the IRS recently made available data on giving by charity based on 990 data (U.S. tax returns filed by non-profit organizations). The Chronicle is looking to break this down by zip code to see if people are giving in their home communities or throughout the country or world. This data is for over a million charities. It will take several months to do this analysis.

Question: How have other fundraisers used this information to inform their work?

Answer: An arts institute in Texas was doing an exhibit tour in their area. They wanted to find communities in their surrounding area that have traditionally been more generous to include in their tour. Other organizations have used the data to learn more about the giving trends of the communities that their donors live in and to determine if there are nearby communities that they would like to engage. Many organizations have been using the data to compare with their own donor databases to make smarter decisions about their fundraising.

Question: If you were a small community based organization outside of the U.S. with a donor community within the U.S., how would you leverage this tool and information to better identify and engage potential donors?

Answer: Let’s say you’re doing a direct mail campaign and you have limited resources, you might try to target your mailings to folks in higher giving areas. You might also reach out to your existing donors and networks in higher giving areas and ask for their help in spreading the word and promoting your cause.

Question: How can organizations determine the top giving zip codes in the U.S.? Is there a round up of some of the most valuable data available on the site?

Answer: The Chronicle has put together a round up of giving by state–most giving to least giving. The website also provides giving information by metro areas.

Question: How often do you plan on updating the information on the site? If the information is from 2008, how much do you think the information has changed in the last five years?

Answer: The Chronicle relies on information from the IRS to update this information. The IRS has not released new information but they are watching out for it and plan to update it when the information is available. Because of the repression, it is possible that these numbers have changed and it will be very interesting to see.

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