Americans donors are far less generous than they think they are, which may suppress giving

A new national study of 1,000 American charitable donors shows that nearly nine out of ten believe they give away a higher proportion of their household income than they actually do.

The Donor Mindset Study, conducted jointly by Grey Matter Research (Phoenix, AZ) and Opinions 4 Good (Op4G, Portsmouth, NH), finds that 88% of charitable donors think they are contributing a higher percentage of their income than they actually are. And it’s not just a minor difference for most people: the average donor quotes a percentage that is 331% higher than what they actually give.

The study had donors report the dollar figure of what they contributed to charitable organizations in the last 12 months (they also separately reported any gifts they may have made to a local place of worship). Elsewhere in the study, they were also asked to estimate what proportion of their household income they give to charity.

The average American donor gives 1.95% of his or her household income to charitable organizations (3.2% if giving to local places of worship is included). But when asked to assess the proportion of their income they give away to charitable organizations, the average donor estimated their giving to charities at 8.41% of their income.

The gap between actual and perceived giving usually isn’t a small one. In fact, 34% of donors overestimate the proportion they give to charity by 50% to 89%, while another 35% overestimate it by 90% or more. While just 4% give at least one-tenth of household income to charity, 38% believe they give one-tenth or more.

The gap between actual and perceived giving exists for every type of donor, but it is particularly large for Roman Catholics, while smaller than average for those who regularly attend Protestant worship services. Donors who give smaller dollar amounts to charity, along with those under age 50, also have a gap that is larger than average.

Donors also see themselves as part of a select group. When asked to estimate the proportion of Americans who gave money to charity in the last 12 months, the average donor came up with a figure of just 28%. In reality, 55% of Americans gave to charities in the last year (the figure rises to 64% if local places of worship are included). Yet only 15% of donors believe the majority of Americans give to charity.

Study participants were also asked to estimate the proportion of their household income the typical American donor gives to charity. The average estimate came in at 9.47%, but six out of ten donors believe their own giving is at or above what the typical American donor contributes.

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, notes that three key points from the research should concern donor-supported organizations. “One, the average donor feels he or she is part of a select minority who support charities,” Sellers said. “Two, the vast majority of donors severely overestimate the proportion of their income they contribute. Three, six out of ten think they’re doing as much or more than other donors. When your perception is that you are doing so much, and so much more than others, what reason is there to consider doing more?”

The research report points out that charities need to ponder how to encourage people to give more in general, not just more to one specific organization. The study draws a parallel between the charitable sector and the retirement savings sector, where companies commonly promote saving in general, then help people understand retirement funding, set goals, and work to reach those goals. Few organizations in the charitable sector take the same approach with giving.

Please e-mail for a free copy of the full report.

About Grey Matter Research:
Grey Matter Research is a marketing research and consumer insights company located in Phoenix, Arizona. Grey Matter has extensive experience with research related to non-profit organizations, with numerous donor-supported organizations as clients. Grey Matter works directly with donor-supported organizations and in partnership with the fundraising, branding, and marketing services agencies that support them.

About Op4G:
Philanthropic online market research panel Op4G invites its panel members to participate in paid online research surveys, and then requires they donate a portion of their incentives – at least 25% and up to 100% – back to one of its 400-plus member non-profit organizations. Op4G’s unique approach to recruiting yields a highly engaged group of quality people who, as respondents, are dedicated to helping market research clients fulfill information needs. Since beginning client delivery in June 2011, panel members have donated over $425,000 to Op4G’s growing number of non-profit partners. Op4G is headquartered in Portsmouth, NH and operates globally.


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