Mormons, Yankees, and Three Observations About Generosity

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has released a comparison of the giving rates of all 366 major metropolitan areas.  I won’t paste the whole chart, but I would direct your attention to the top 25 areas and the bottom 25.  First, here’s the top 25:


And now, the bottom 25:


What do you notice about these charts?  As we’ve long known, the more liberal and the more secular a person gets, the less likely they are to give money to charity, but these charts show rather starkly not just the regional but also the religious divides in generosity.  I have three short observations:

1.  Mormons rule.  The top six cities are heavily Mormon — if not outright LDS-dominated.  And the gap between the top-giving Mormon city and the top-giving Protestant city (Provo, Utah, versus Pine Bluff, Arkansas) is vast.  Provo residents give a median 13.9% of discretionary income, while Pine Bluff residents give a median 8.9%.  (For perspective, that’s the same percentage gap as exists between city number 7 on the chart and city number 128).

2. Yankees drool.  Outside of the LDS-heavy states of Utah and Idaho, there is not one single city north of the Mason-Dixon line represented in the top 25.  Not one.  Meanwhile, 22 of the 25 lowest-ranked cities are northern.  This is just one more piece of evidence that our regional differences are also cultural differences.

3.  We can do better.  It’s hard to look at the overall chart without thinking that we can do better, much better.  For all the popularity of the underdog, for all the pop culture that celebrates acts of charity and giving, and for all the millions of words written about poverty and helping your fellow man, the truth is that we don’t put our money where our mouth is.  The truth is that our words are often merely wind, and we allow our attitudes and ideologies to substitute for real virtue.

Aside from a precious few LDS communities, we should feel a sense of collective shame and individual conviction.  Simply put, let’s give more.


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  • swmpfx3000

    I noticed that Idaho Falls is 5th on the list. Not sure you are aware but Idaho has a fairly large Mormon population. Just outside Idaho Falls is a large BYU campus known as BYU Idaho. Being a southerner, it is nice to see many southern cities on the top 25 list.

  • David French

    Yep, that’s why I note that the top 6 cities are in heavily-LDS areas.

  • Noelle

    I am both a Mormon and a Yankee (by birth). Do I rule or do I drool? Maybe a little of both. :)

  • David French

    So would that make you a ruling drooler or a drooling ruler???

  • DandyStryker

    Mormons give a lot of money to their church. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they give much for humanitarian reasons. The Mormon Church spends less on humanitarian aid than virtually any other in America. Now, if building mega shopping malls and temples were in the public good, Mormons might have something to crow about. But, essentially, they live in a cult that puts a 10% tax on them — and that’s not charity.

  • Joseph D. Walch


    Nice try. The thing is that I really don’t care of people like yourself–who is obviously not a member of my church–cares about how much I give to humanitarian aid in cash or in-kind contributions, but your opinion quite different from the opinion of Pres Ronald Reagan. The fact is that Reagan said that if the U.S. government ran it’s welfare program like the church then we would see a dramatic decrease in poverty. As an anecdote, I happened to take a team of medical students to Central America to work in a hospital. Incidentally, all the wheelchairs in the hospital had the “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” written on them. I was informed that they were donated to the hospital by the Church, so perhaps there’s something more to it than mere shopping malls and real estate.

  • DLH

    I am sorry, but I don’t think you know much about the LDS church. Most of us spend a great deal of time and money serving our fellow men. We are usually the first ones there to help in any natural or man made disaster. We have a vast organization of mostly volunteers that provide food for those in need. We have services for those that need job skills, counseling or other help. We spend hours making quilts, new born baby kits and other items needed around the world. We don’t do these things for just members, we do them for people no matter what religion or race.

  • Andrew Miller

    DandyStryker: Spoken like someone who is truly and woefully uninformed.

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  • LocalLay

    DandyStryker, you are letting one article influence your comments about humanitarian aid provided by the LDS Church. As a local lay leader I can tell you that in every community worldwide where a local congregation exists, humanitarian aid and charitable giving is being in doled out in substantial quantities. This money is not accounted for by the Newsweek articlel–nor is paraded around to say “Look at us”. Additionally, Newsweek did not have access to the church’s financial records so any comments are speculation at best. Go to a local congregation talk to the Bishop ask him about families he helps, strangers he feeds and shelters. Go to Welfare square in SLC. Please get the real picture before you throw your daggers of inconsistency.

  • christine

    Dandystriker so maybe the 10% tithing was never part of the statistics.
    here’s what all this donation power cannot seem to prevent: rising poverty

  • Carl Youngblood

    As an active member of the church, I think that DandyStryker has a very valid point. Take away tithing, which according to Church teachings goes nearly exclusively towards funding the ongoing operating costs of the Church, and I believe you would have very different stats. While it may certainly be argued that the Church is doing a lot of good, when there is a huge social cost to choosing not to participate fully in the church, it changes the stakes significantly. I think it would be much fairer to exclude tithing from the survey and instead only donations that actually went to humanitarian causes. My guess is that the difference would not be nearly as stark, although I still believe that conservatives would probably be bigger donors.

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  • Mike Parker

    Another point of interest: Note the difference between cities in Mormon-dominated southeast Idaho (#5 Idaho Falls and #14 Pocatello) and the cities in largely non-Mormon western Idaho (#106 Boise, #193 Lewiston, #195 Coeur d’Alene).

  • David French

    Except of course as with all tithing in any church, a big segment of your tithe goes towards helping those in need. It certainly does in my (PCA) church.

  • David French

    Also, even when you control for gifts to church, the religious are more generous than the non-religious.

  • rachie_lelei

    There is a difference between the for-profit ventures, the Humanitarian efforts and what tithing is used for in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You might find this article interesting.

  • Joel Cannon

    David – the hours that Mormons contribute as community services (on average 10hr/month) is even more dramatic when compared with other groups (some less than 1hr/month). Currently in Souther Oregon, Mormons are being asked to donate 12 hours to pick pears at our local pear farm. The harvest produces millions of pounds that are canned at a Mormon operated volunteer cannery and distributed to the poor. Such donations are not included in your statistics. Every congregation has some sort of similar welfare project that they operate, and this is just a small part of what we do to help each other.

  • Agkcrbs

    Does LDS giving count for less?

    Some charitable donations reflected in this report are spoken for by functions falling outside strict humanitarian definitions, it’s true. Those include the social education performed by churches (trivia: “church” in Chinese came out as “teaching society” and “teaching hall”). Gifts to such education keep on giving, apparently perpetuating themselves in higher rates of monetary generosity across the south, and hopefully abating individual tendencies toward economic dependency that would sap other humanitarian efforts, so we shouldn’t too quickly dismiss them as purely ecclesiocentric. As far as LDS go, a good chunk of their resources is also known to be spent on minor construction projects, with the side effect of supporting an industry foundational to economic health.

    But consider liberal donations, too. How many of their gifts are diverted to planting trees, rounding up wild pets, vaguely paying homage to Mother Earth, lobbying for feminism, defaming opponents of homosexual marriage, or subsidising lawsuits against churches? I love trees, myself. But as pale and confused as these functions can seem compared to feeding a starving kid in Burma (or down the street), how narrowly do we really want to define “charitable giving”? Is the giving itself what matters most, as with the widow’s mite?

    This report wisely skipped the question and kept it all lumped together. (Also not considered: tax rates of individual regions. Alabama, for example, has very low property taxes — but rather high sales taxes. This report tells a general story, not a detailed one, so our assumptions must be held gently.)

    Still, double-digit Utah averages are no surprise. As broad of a global service reach as the LDS Church has, multiplied by the low overhead of volunteers, any outside giving should fall on top of church-internal giving. 10% would thus be expected as a base figure, to be increased first of all by other offerings to church funds, and secondarily by non-church gifts (not including to Romney — important, but extra). Salt Lake of course is burdened with liberals and other urban problems, but the college cities seem to have the right idea. Let me here suggest one of my favourite non-church programs:

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    The Provo-Orem metro area is about 81% Mormon. Logan, St. George (in Southwest Utah), and Ogden are in the 70s and 60s. Idaho Falls is around 54% Mormon, Salt Lake County is 51%, and Pocatello is around 47%, with the handicap of a major state university.

    The University of Pennsylvania study earlier this year found that , even without counting Mormon contributions to their own church, the level of Mormon charitable donations of money and time is equal to or higher than any other demographic in the US.

    There was bogus information in the Bloomberg Businessweek article about Mormon Church finances. It claimed that the hundreds of millions of dollars the LDS Church has goven in humanitarian aid around the world in the last 20 years was less than 1% of all Church revenues, but that Methodist humanitarian aid was 29% of its church revenues. However, that comparison ignored the fact that ALL mormon Church revenues are centralized, while Methodist central revenues EXCLUDE the cost of copnstruction, maintenance and utilities, supporting pasotrs, and other programs paid at the local level, and that a relatively small amount goes to central Methodist funds. A bit of research shows that the actual dollar amount spent by Methodists on humanitarian aid per Methodist member in the US is almost exactly the SAME as for Mormons–$8 per US member per year. And for Mormons, that is over and above the Fast Offerings, in which Mormons fast for 24 hours one Sunday a month and donate the food money to help feed and care for the poor. It excludes contributions ot the Perpetual Education Fund, a revolving loan program to aid members in developing nations to get education that will increase their income. It excludes contributions of labor to make and process and package food, that is distributed at no charge to the poor. Mormon Church farms have lawyers and high powered business executives down in the dirt pulling weeds alongside truck drivers and elementary school teachers. It is common for Mormons to organize to repair the home of a widow or sick member, and provide labor to help someone move to a new location for work. Mormons also do service in an organized way in their communities; the congregations in my city are going to spend the morning of September 15 cleaning up one of the small towns 30 miles away. When a natural disaster strikes, like Hurricane Katrina, Mormon food and supply trucks are prepositioned outside the danger zone so they can move in as soon as the storm clears. Some 10,000 Mormons helped clear debris and downed trees after Katrina, and distribute food and water and clothing. One of my neighbors manned a medical clinic in haiti. An old friend is in Japan helping with recovery form the tsunami (which hit cities where he had worked for three years as a missionary and is fluent in the language).

    The Mormon church doubles in size about every 20 years. That means it has to DOUBLE the number of meetinghouses every 20 years, plus renovate the old ones. Most churches in the US do not have that financial need. the Mormons save money by having unpaid labor for all of their local and regional leaders. There is no career clergy in the Mormon church. Churches who are strapped for funds might consider how well it works to rely entirely on part time volunteer teachers and leaders.

    As for shopping malls, the City Creek Center development across the street from LDS Church Headquarters is on land the Church has owned for over a century. The Church established the Zions Cooperative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI) in the 1860s, and it has been acknowledged as the first Department Store in the US. It was created to support local manufacture and business. Isn’t that considered a “green” business practice today? The land was occupied by two shopping malls that were losing money. the new development includes residences so people will be in the area 24/7, and will help proterct the character of the neighborhood around Temple Square. Also, when the Church needs to expand its HQ offices, they will be able to move into the office space built there and used commercially now. The construction of the Center during the recession weas the ONLY major private commercial investment in the country, employing over 1,000 construction workers. If it was “stiumulus” for President Obama, what is wrong with it being done by a church? The retail center will employ hundreds of people with jobs, much better than charity handouts. And it is a more rational way for the Church to “park” its surplus funds than just put them in a bank account.

    If the Mormon church had invested this money into developing downtown Detroit, it would be praised to high heaven. Some people are jealous. Would you think it is better for churches to be constantly begging for money? The Mormon Church wisely manages its assets and maintains the ability to perform its mission AND give to people in need. What is most important, all its income comes in voluntarily, thorugh donations or fair business transactions. It is not like government, which TAKES money and then gives it away and wants our gratitude.

    There are monasteries that grow wheat and sell bread. The Christian Brothers who own St. Mary’s College in California, where I taught, also had a vineyard that made wine they sold to support themselves and their charities.

  • Joel cannon

    My numbers were off, and I found the link.
    “An average American Latter-day Saint provides almost 430 hours of volunteer labor annually.  This equates to approximately 35 hours per month.   In comparison, the average American volunteer provides about four hours of volunteering per month”

  • http://Facebook Judi Brownlee

    You are wrong. They are the first ones to respond to a disaster. They have been very quiet about their humanitarian efforts but they serve every one . For more info visit their humanitarian division. Look for the yellow or red shirts in a disaster area…they are always there! I was impressed!
    Read up on cults. They are not a cult. Dig a little deeper in your thinking.

  • Aaron

    I wonder where these numbers would go if churches didn’t count. I’m sorry but giving money to an organization so that they can proselytize and get more members does not count as charitable giving in my book.

  • partypooper

    could it be that mormons think they have to pay 10% to get into heaven and temples? could it also be that it’s a tax write off for supporting their own religious organization?

  • Stan Lemon

    Give me a break. These results are probably from tithing statistics, which don’t truly count as charity because the church practically demands it.

  • David French

    The church can’t make anyone tithe. And tithing is a classic tenet of evangelicalism as well, but Mormons do a better job.