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America's most (and least) charitable states

The holiday season is a time for giving to family and friends. It is also apparently a time to give to those in need. Nonprofits rely on end-of-year donations to meet their budgets. While most Americans will not admit it, the IRS January 1st deadline encourages charitable gifts at the end of the year.

24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 states where Americans give the most and least to charity, based on IRS data for charitable giving.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed IRS data compiled by the Urban Institute, which reports on the most recent annual data available from the IRS every year. According to Katie Roeger, assistant program director at Urban Institute, “Only a handful of states saw increases in average donations in 2009. The increases came from both high-income states such as New York and Connecticut as well has lower-income states like Kansas or South Dakota.”

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The most generous states, for the most part, are also the wealthiest ones. Five of the 10 states that give the most to charity on a per taxpayer basis are among the top 10 states with the highest average income per taxpayer. There are also a number of relatively poor states that are generous, despite their low income. Alabama and Georgia have relatively low average incomes, but the average taxpayer gives more than taxpayers in other, wealthier states.

A similar trend can be seen among the least generous states. Eight of the 10 states have incomes lower than the national average, and five of them are among the 15 states with the lowest income per taxpayer. At the same time, a few states appear to be less generous, despite their wealth. New Hampshire and Alaska taxpayers make more than the national average, and have more households that make over $200,000 than most other states, but taxpayers give less on average than other, poorer, states.

24/7 Wall St. relied on Urban Institute’s methodology to determine the most charitable states. Using data collected by the IRS, the institute ranks each state by average charitable donation per taxpayer, highest to lowest. The number is calculated by dividing the total number of taxpayers in each state by the total charitable donations listed in itemized deductions for taxpayers.

The IRS only keeps track of charitable donations filed by taxpayers as part of their itemized deductions. While charitable gifts that are not included in tax filings are not tracked by the IRS, they only account for approximately 15 percent to 20 percent of total annual charitable giving in the U.S each year, according to The Giving Institute. According to the Giving Institute’s Executive Director Geoffery Brown, because nonitemized deductions are not calculated at a state level, the Urban Institute’s methodology is a good proxy for the average charitable donations given per resident in a state.

Profiles of Individual Charitable Contributions by State, the Urban Institute’s most recent report published this year, is based on IRS filings for 2009, filed in 2010. To reflect the extent to which wealth impacts charity, 24/7 Wall St. also included average adjusted gross income per taxpayer, as well as the percent of taxpayers reporting charitable donation, both from the Urban Institute. The percentage of households that earn more than $200,000 per year per state and poverty rates are from the Census Bureau. We relied on Convio’s list of the most generous cities in the U.S. for 2010, based on online donations per person, to demonstrate charitable giving on a local level.

The Most Charitable States

1. Utah

  • Charitable donation per taxpayer: $2,388
  • Taxpayers who donate to charity: 33.4 percent (4th highest)
  • Average income per taxpayer: $52,027 (21st highest)
  • Pct. of households earning $200,000 or more: 2.8 percent (23rd highest)

According to the IRS, at least a third of Utah residents donated to charity in 2009 -- the fourth highest in the country. Utah is by no means the wealthiest state as income per taxpayer is just $52,027, the 21st highest in the country. Only 2.8 percent of residents make $200,000 or more. Nevertheless, the average taxpayer donated a remarkable $2,388 per person to charity in 2009, $600, or roughly 40 percent more than the next highest state.

2. Maryland

  • Charitable donation per taxpayer: $1,661
  • Taxpayers who donate to charity: 40.8 percent (the highest)
  • Average income per taxpayer: $66,614 (4th highest)
  • Pct. of households earning $200,000 or more: 7.4 percent (3rd highest)

Like Connecticut, Maryland is in extremely good economic shape. The state has the third-lowest poverty rate in the U.S., as well as the third-highest percentage of families that earn at least $200,000 per year. Average income per taxpayer in 2009 was $66,614, the fourth-highest rate in the U.S., and the average taxpayer gave $1,661 to charity in the same year.

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3. Connecticut

  • Charitable donation per taxpayer: $1,517
  • Taxpayers who donate to charity: 36.3 percent (3rd highest)
  • Average income per taxpayer: $79,448 (the highest)
  • Pct. of households earning $200,000 or more: 7.6 percent (2nd highest)

The average income per taxpayer in Connecticut is nearly $80,000 -- roughly $35,000 more than the U.S. average. The state has the fourth-lowest poverty rate in the country, as well as the second-highest percentage of households that earn $200,000 or more each year. The state’s general affluence enabled residents to give at least $2.5 billion in 2009. However, when these contributions are measured against income per taxpayer, Connecticut ranks only 26th.

The Least Charitable States

1. Maine

  • Charitable donation per taxpayer: $612
  • Taxpayers who donate to charity: 22.6 percent (16th lowest)
  • Average income per taxpayer: $46,683 (10th lowest)
  • Pct. of households earning $200,000 or more: 2.0 percent (6th lowest)

Although Maine’s average income per taxpayer is relatively low -- the 10th lowest in the country to be exact -- this does not explain its exceptionally low average charity donation per taxpayer. At just $612, it is just 25 percent of the average donation of Utah’s average donation, $2,388, the most generous state. In addition to having the lowest average donation, the state also has the second lowest donation as a percentage of taxpayer income.

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2. Vermont

  • Charitable donation per taxpayer: $662
  • Taxpayers who donate to charity: 21.4 percent (14th lowest)
  • Average income per taxpayer: $48,698 (16th lowest)
  • Pct. of households earning $200,000 or more: 2.8 percent (24th highest)

From 2004 to 2009, the average charitable contribution per income tax return in Vermont decreased 4.8 percent, from $695 to $662 -- the second smallest amount in the country. Worse still, the state has the 14th lowest percentage of taxpayers who donate to charity. While the state is among the poorest as a measured by average income, the state has one of the lowest poverty rates in the country.

3. West Virginia

  • Charitable donation per taxpayer: $662
  • Taxpayers who donate to charity: 13.1 percent (the lowest)
  • Average income per taxpayer: $44,895 (3rd lowest)
  • Pct. of households earning $200,000 or more: 1.4 percent (the lowest)

Just 13.1 percent of West Virginia’s taxpayers reported making any kind of charitable donation in 2009, by far the smallest percentage in the U.S. In comparison, 40.1 percent of Maryland residents reported at least some form of monetary contribution to charity in that year. In its defense, the state is extremely poor, with the third-lowest average income per taxpayer, the fifth-highest poverty rate, and the lowest percentage of households earning $200,000 or more -- just 1.4 percent.

 Click here to read all of America’s most (and least) charitable states.


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