People often became involved with charities because they saw their parents involved with charities

What parents say and do when it comes to charitable giving and volunteering makes a big difference in the charitable activities of their children once those kids grow up, according to research findings being released in detail today. Parental behavior had tremendous influence – more than religion, politics, race, household income, or any other measured factors on the generosity of today’s Americans.

These findings are from Heart of the Donor, an in-depth study commissioned by Russ Reid Company of Pasadena, California, and conducted by Grey Matter Research & Consulting of Phoenix, Arizona.

“The data clearly shows that parental behavior has a very substantial correlation with the eventual behavior of children once they are grown,” said Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research. “While the research doesn’t show an absolute one-to-one correlation, in real terms today’s volunteers are 125% more likely to have come from parents who encouraged their children to volunteer, and 145% more likely to have come from parents who frequently volunteered, than they are to have come from parents who really never did those things.”

“Nonprofits can encourage today’s donors to talk to their children about giving and volunteering, model the behavior, and share the experience with them,” said Lisa McIntyre, Senior Vice President of Russ Reid Company and an integral part of the study. “The data clearly shows that when these things are done, it has a long-lasting effect on kids.”

Heart of the Donor was conducted by telephone and online among a nationally representative sample of 2,005 American adults, in both English and Spanish. The study explores how Americans interact with nonprofit organizations.

Respondents were asked how often their parents (or the people who raised them) engaged in a ten different behaviors while they were growing up, such as volunteering, making charitable donations, and talking to their children about these behaviors. Frequency was reported on a scale of 1 (never) to 7 (very frequently).

A majority of today’s adults say their parents frequently took them to worship services (62% rated this at a 6 or 7 on the scale), encouraged them to save money (61%), and personally donated to a church or place of worship (52%). Almost half (46%) say their parents regularly talked to them about how to handle money wisely.

Parental activity related to donating and volunteering (other than giving money to a place of worship) was much less frequent. One-third say their parents frequently volunteered with a place of worship, with another 28% saying their parents did this occasionally.

Only 22% recall their parents frequently encouraging them as adolescents to volunteer their own time, with another 37% saying their parents did this occasionally. Twenty percent remember their parents frequently encouraging them, even as children, to give money to nonprofits, with another 36% saying this happened occasionally.

Just 18% remember their parents frequently giving to nonprofits (another 36% report their parents doing this occasionally), while 17% recall their parents frequently volunteering with nonprofits (another 34% say they did this occasionally). Least common was for parents to talk to their children about what nonprofits they supported and why; just 15% report this taking place frequently, with an additional 36% saying it happened occasionally.

Beyond the frequency, the study evaluated the actual role of parental influence in two different ways. One method simply compared how people behave today with how they recall their parents behaving when they were growing up. This comparison shows strong links between the two. For instance, among people who say their parents frequently gave money to a place of worship when they were growing up, 55% themselves gave money to a place of worship in the last year. Among those who say their parents occasionally gave money to a place of worship, 39% are donors to a place of worship today. And among those who say their parents rarely or never gave money to a place of worship, 24% are themselves supporting a place of worship today.

Financially supporting a nonprofit organization other than a church or place of worship shows much the same pattern. Among people who recall their parents frequently supporting nonprofit organizations, 52% are themselves donors today. Among those who saw their parents provide occasional support, 46% are now donors. But among people who rarely or never saw their parents model this behavior, only 26% are donors today – half the proportion of those who say their parents gave frequently.

The same kind of impact can also be seen based on whether parents talked to their children about the nonprofits they supported and why they supported them. When parents did this frequently, 51% of today’s adults are donors. When parents did this occasionally, 44% are donors. When parents rarely or never did this, just 32% are donors.

Even among people who have not financially supported a nonprofit organization in the last year there appears to have been parental impact. Among non-donors whose parents gave frequently, 11% are not open to contributing to a nonprofit in the near future. Among those whose parents gave occasionally, it’s 21%. But among non-donors with parents who rarely or never supported nonprofits, 43% are not open to contributing in the near future.

The same types of impact can be seen with volunteering. Among people who grew up with parents who were frequent volunteers with nonprofit organizations, 49% volunteered with a nonprofit organization in the past 12 months. Among people with parents who occasionally volunteered, 31% are themselves volunteers. Among those who never really saw them give their time, just 20% volunteer today.

The second method of evaluating the data was through a complex set of statistical tests. Grey Matter Research ran a factor analysis on the ten parental behaviors, followed by a regression analysis. Among the ten parental behaviors tested in this study, six of them were correlated with the behavior of today’s adults:

  1. gave money to a church or other place of worship
  2. gave money to nonprofit organizations other than a place of worship
  3. talked to you about the nonprofit organizations they supported and why they supported those organizations
  4. took you to church or another place of worship
  5. volunteered their time to help nonprofit organizations other than a place of worship
  6. encouraged you, even as a child, to volunteer your time to help nonprofits

The other four tested elements demonstrated no individual correlation with current charitable behavior among respondents.

Once all six of those behaviors are combined, parents were essentially ranked statistically from low to high in terms of overall behavior. These behavior scores were then compared against the behavior of today’s adults. There was one overall finding of great importance: parents with little to no participation in those six behaviors have about a 25% chance of raising a child who ends up as a donor; while those with frequent participation in many of the above behaviors have a greater than 80% chance of raising a child who turns out to be a donor. Parental involvement is stronger than other predictive factors: ethnicity, education, household income, age, and even whether respondents are currently volunteers.

Not only does parental involvement account for much of the question of whether people give, it also helps predict how generously they give. The more frequently parents engaged in each of these six behaviors, the more generously their children end up giving. (The study defined generosity as the total amount of money given to nonprofits over the past 12 months as a percentage of the donor’s household income.)

McIntyre noted that nonprofit organizations can help ensure the future of charitable giving by encouraging today’s parents to pass along their charitable values to their kids. “It can be tempting to focus only on the needs of today, but we also have to be concerned about future generations,” she said.

Study Details:
Heart of the Donor was commissioned by Russ Reid Company and conducted by Grey Matter Research & Consulting. The study was conducted using a demographically representative and behaviorally balanced national online research panel, along with telephone data collection among people who do not use the Internet. The sample size of 2,005 people has a potential sampling error of ±2.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence interval. The study was conducted in both English and Spanish. Data was collected May 2010.

Grey Matter Research has been solving the information and research needs of for-profit companies and non-profit organizations since 1996. Formerly Ellison Research, the company has worked with a lengthy list of national donor-supported organizations over the last 15 years, along with corporate clients such as Chevrolet, Macy’s Department Stores, Navistar, and Coca-Cola. Grey Matter Research offers sophisticated qualitative and quantitative research techniques to uncover details that make a tangible difference for clients.

Russ Reid is the preferred fundraising partner of over 200 growth-oriented non-profit organizations across the United States and Canada. The company has a 46-year proven track record of acquiring high value donors and dollars using all available media, including online, direct mail, print, television, radio and catalog, as well as federal funding and advocacy. Russ Reid helps clients extract maximum value from these donors through sophisticated donor segmentation, offer development, and donor retention strategies.


    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *