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Study shows region stingy with money, but not time

click to enlarge Michael Hannigan, executive director of the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, notes that weve got some work to do when it comes to educating people about charitable giving. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Michael Hannigan, executive director of the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, notes that weve got some work to do when it comes to educating people about charitable giving.

If the rich, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, are different than you and me perhaps it's because they give less.

A survey by the Pikes Peak Community Foundation found that in El Paso County, people earning below $20,000 donated 3.1 percent of their income to charity while those earning over $100,000 gave a much lower percentage of their income to charity -- only 0.9 percent.

The survey, completed last year, also indicated that while people in Colorado Springs may give less than the national average, they spend more time volunteering at local charities.

"We have to be careful about drawing sweeping conclusions from what is pretty modest data," said Michael Hannigan, Pikes Peak Community Foundation's executive director.

Hannigan, whose organization serves as an advocacy group for local philanthropic endeavors, has a few theories on the disparities between the amounts that the rich and poor give to charity.

"A lot of people who have a lot of wealth tend to give out of their income rather than out of their assets," he said. "In our community we have some work to do to help people understand that they can make larger charitable gifts if they consider giving out of assets in addition to giving out of income"

Responding to crisis

As far as the generosity of local lower income folks, Hannigan says it often relates to crisis.

"What I read in other national surveys and what I read out of our survey is that they (lower income donors) respond to crisis and they see crisis in their communities and in their families more often than ... people of wealth."

The study wasn't designed for sociological purposes but to assist local philanthropic organizations in understanding local behaviors and attitudes toward giving. Conduced by Voter Consumer Research of Houston, the survey was based on random telephone interviews of 500 residents of El Paso County.

In addition to the seemingly counterintuitive giving disparity based on income, the report found that the Pikes Peak region gives 17 percent less than the national average.

Where the average household gives $1,620, the Pikes Peak average was only $1,340.

However, the study used figures from 2000 for its national benchmark while local residents were surveyed about their giving during the starkly different economic circumstances between August 2001 and July 2002.

Hannigan says this factor partially explains why local giving is so far below the national average. However, he claims the region trails behind other similarly sized cities in other indicators of charitable giving.

Low on cash, high on time

But lest anyone think El Paso County harbors an inordinate number of Scrooges, the study found that what the region lacks in financial giving, it compensates for in time.

Where the national average reveals 44 percent of Americans volunteering their services, in El Paso County it's 65 percent with 82 percent of volunteers providing their services to one to three different organizations.

Brenda Clifton of the Volunteer Center of the Pikes Peak Region credits local volunteerism to several factors. Most notably, she says, is the high number of locally based charitable organizations. In addition, the presence of college students and military provide a constant pool of willing volunteers.

"It's such a transient community, we tend to have people who volunteer to introduce themselves to the community," Clifton said. "The size of our city makes it manageable; we're a population of half a million but we're pretty accessible."

Transient or not, the survey found that the duration of one's residency has no bearing on charitable giving. In addition, no substantial differences in giving were found between the genders or generations. These findings conform to national data, according to the research of The Independent Sector, a Washington D.C.-based coalition of nonprofits.

Clifton also credited the region's faith-based community with the high rate of volunteerism. On the national level, a region's religious makeup often bears out in statistical findings. A recent survey by the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that Utah, with its high Mormon population, leads the nation in charitable giving as Mormons are encouraged to donate 10 percent of their income to charity.

Giving and the arts

The study also revealed curious trends in arts-related giving. For instance, while 87 percent of those surveyed attested to the importance of the community having a variety of performing arts opportunities, only half had actually attended a performance in the last year. Of that group, less than half donates to the arts.

Susan Edmondson, executive director of the Bee Vradenburg Foundation, which donates money to several local arts organizations, says the study's findings were encouraging.

"It's a good reminder and a wake-up call that we need to redouble our efforts to reach out to people beyond the downtown area," Edmondson said.

No profit no trust

One of the survey's more alarming results was its finding that 33 percent do not trust charitable organizations, or do not find any worthy of their support.

"That's highly controversial because the national average is down around 15 percent," Hannigan said. "It begs the question, What is it about our community that's promoting that degree of skepticism?"

Hannigan said he plans to follow up with another study in 2005 that will focus on the motives behind charitable giving.

-- John Dicker

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