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Share of Americans who donated to religious organizations remains at all-time low: Gallup

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Workers fill carts with food for the poor at the Foothill Unity Center food bank in Monrovia, California, November 14, 2012. |

A new survey from Gallup reveals that the share of Americans who have donated to religious organizations remains an all-time low, even as the percentage of Americans that donated to charitable organizations overall increased.

According to the survey, released Tuesday, 44% of Americans surveyed in 2021 reported that they donated money to a religious organization in the previous 12 months. That figure remains unchanged from 2020, when 44% of Americans said the same.

The 44% donation rate represents an all-time low since Gallup first began asking about Americans’ religious donations and donating habits in general in 2001. The share of Americans who told Gallup that they donated money to a religious organization in the past year reached a high of 64% in 2005 and has either held steady or declined in the years since.

At the same time, the share of Americans who donated to both non-religious and religious charities has increased since reaching a record low of 73% in 2020. Eighty-one percent of Americans surveyed by Gallup reported donating to charitable organizations in 2021.

As with donations specifically to religious organizations, the percentage of Americans who financially contributed to secular and/or religious charities reached a record high in 2005. Specifically, 87% of respondents gave money to charity in 2005.

When asked if they donated specifically to non-religious charitable organizations, 74% of Americans answered in the affirmative. This represents a noticeable jump from 2020, when just 64% of respondents said they donated to a non-religious charitable organization. The 64% donation rate recorded in 2020 constituted an all-time low in the history of the Gallup survey while the year 2001 had the highest donation rate to non-religious charities (79%).

Over the years, Gallup has also asked Americans whether or not they volunteered time to religious organizations and other charitable organizations. While the share of Americans who donated their time to charitable organizations dropped from 58% to 56% from 2020 to 2021, the volunteer rate remains slightly above the record low of 55%, set in 2009.

When broken down into subcategories of religious and non-religious charitable organizations, 35% of Americans claimed to have volunteered for a religious charity in the past 12 months, marking a 3% decline from 2020 and a record low overall. The share of Americans who volunteered for a religious organization reached a record high of 46% in 2013 and has been consistently declining ever since.

By contrast, the share of those surveyed who volunteered for a non-religious charitable organization rose from 43% in 2020 to 47% in 2021. The percentage of Americans who reported donating to secular charities reached a record high of 50% in 2017, a modest increase from the historical low of 43% achieved in 2009.  

Gallup attributes the decline in donations to religious organizations to the fact that “formal church membership has declined.” Specifically, Gallup noted the correlation between the results of the survey about Americans’ charitable giving and volunteer habits to the finding of another one of its surveys about Americans’ religious practices: “The 44% of U.S. adults donating to a religious organization nearly matches the 47% who belong to a church, synagogue, mosque or temple.”

Additionally, Gallup points to the coronavirus pandemic as the reason why 2020 marked a historical low in the share of Americans who gave to charity: “Amid economic uncertainty and restrictions on public activity in the initial stages of the pandemic, Americans’ charitable activity declined. More than a year later, monetary charitable donations are mostly back to their pre-pandemic levels, while volunteerism still lags.”

“The increase in donations is consistent with Americans’ intentions in the 2020 Gallup survey when more U.S. adults said they planned to increase (25%) rather than decrease (7%) the amount of money they gave to charity in the coming year. Two-thirds planned to maintain their level of giving.”

The polling organization predicted that “a recovery in volunteering may be more elusive as concerns about COVID-19 exposure and public health safety measures limit Americans’ willingness and ability to perform volunteer work.” It suggested that “the unpredictable nature of the virus and the emergence of new variants” could mean a prolonged drop in volunteering for the foreseeable future.

The Gallup survey is based on responses collected from 811 adults residing in all 50 U.S. states as well as the District of Columbia between Dec. 1–16, 2021. The poll had a margin of error of +/-4 percentage points.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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