American Philanthropy: Utah and the Giving Pledge

By | February 5, 2013

It’s tax time, and there are usually few things to be happy about. One of the small things is the tax-deduction from charitable gifts. For many of us, we get to enjoy the donations twice – once when we make the gift, and another time when we deduct it from our taxes. A bit selfish to say, but true.  But here is the other side of the coin, major philanthropy.

So how generous are Americans overall? For all of America’s great wealth disparity, and often times shocking poverty, America is also home to generous people. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Americans gave an estimated $200+ billion annually.

Who states gave the most? One study looked at the IRS tax returns by zip code and analyzed which states gave the most $ to charity. When you look at the average charitable  donation (as a % of house income) the state rankings look like this.

Charity as a Percentage of Total

Utah is the winner. When you take a look at the same data by city, you see that 5 of the top 10 most generous cities (median $ contribution by household) were in Utah.

A cynic might say that monetary donations are not everything, but the states with the highest $ contributions tended to have the most people who contribute time as well.

How generous is your neighborhood? Use this tool to dig down into the data and see how your state / city / country / town / zip compares. You can sort the median contributions by income levels $50K-$99K, $100K-$199K, $200K+ if you want to.

How America Gives

The Giving Pledge. Yes, the rich can be generous. In 2010, Warren Buffett, and the Gates’ invited America’s wealthiest to give 50%+ of their wealth to charity before or at the time of their death.  Amazingly, 154 billionaires (as of 07/16) have signed the pledge so far.

The website states that the pledge is a “moral commitment to give, not a legal contract.”  They don’t track how much has been given, but they do ask all future-donors to write a letter explaining why they are taking the pledge. A few inspiring excerpts:

BuffettWarren Buffett: More than 99% of my wealth will go to philanthropy during my lifetime or at death.  Measured by dollars, this commitment is large. In a comparative sense, though, many individuals give more to others every day. Millions of people who regularly contribute to churches, schools, and other organizations thereby relinquish the use of funds that would otherwise benefit their own families.  The dollars these people drop into a collection plate or give to United Way mean forgone movies, dinners out, or other personal pleasures.  In contrast, my family and I will give up nothing we need or want by fulfilling this 99% pledge.

Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg: One of the senior managers at my company, Bloomberg LP, recently told me that part of his new hires recruiting pitch is to ask, “What other company can you work for where the owner gives nearly all the profits to charity?”  Nothing has ever made me prouder of my company than that one story.

Peter Petersen

Peter G. Petersen:  My parents were Greek immigrants who came to America at age 17, with 3rd grade educations, not a word of English and hardly a penny in their pockets.   Their dream was the American dream, not just for themselves but for their children as well.   My father took a job no one else would take – – washing dishes in a steamy caboose on the Union Pacific railroad.   He ate and slept there and saved virtually every penny he made.  He took those savings and started the inevitable Greek restaurant, open 24 hours a day for 365 days a year for 25 years.

Throughout this period, he always sent money to his desperately poor family in Greece and fed countless numbers of hungry poor who came knocking on the back door of his restaurant.   Above all else, he wanted to save so as to invest in his children’s education.  When I enjoyed a most surprising billion dollar plus windfall from the public offering of The Blackstone Group, a firm co-founded, I pondered, what should I do with all of this money?

Bill and Joyce Cummings

Bill and Joyce Cummins: After about 15 successful years in commercial real estate, we came to recognize and believe that no one can truly “own” anything.  Particularly, as regards real estate, how can we possibly think of ourselves as actually owning land?  How can we ever be more than caretakers of the land, which lies beneath whatever we might develop on a property?  With that in mind, it was easy to start giving things away.KaiserGeorge Kaiser: I suppose I arrived at my charitable commitment largely through guilt.  I recognized early on, that my good fortune was not due to superior personal character or initiative so much as it was to dumb luck.  I was blessed to be born in an advanced society with caring parents.  So, I had the advantage of both genetics (winning the “ovarian lottery”) and upbringing.   As I looked around at those who did not have these advantages, it became clear to me that I had a moral obligation to direct my resources to help right that balance.

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2 thoughts on “American Philanthropy: Utah and the Giving Pledge

  1. Ced Garrett

    Considering the fact that most of this is seemingly due to contributions to ones Church, I am hardly impressed with the US’ most philanthropic states. I think that this is a reflection of religious contributions. Utah, home of the Mormons, and then you have the members of the bible belt, and Idaho. Idaho stands out, but I wonder if its possible some of it is due to heavy Mormon influences. This does not take anything away from our philanthropic billionaires, but it certainly shouldn’t warm the hearts of your average everyday American.

    1. consultantsmind Post author

      Ced, Thank you for the comment. Agree. A lot of it is driven by religious contributions – which I would still argue shows a selfless heart and something to consider worthy and worthwhile. I also agree though that we have a long ways to go. I heard a podcast with John Mackey (Whole Foods founder and CEO): http://blogs.hbr.org/ideacast/2013/01/whole-foods-john-mackey-on-cap.html

      He argues that capitalism does & should have a moral code. Specifically, Adam Smith’s first book was called The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and talked about ethics, and the importance of empathy for others. Many don’t know this.

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