Study tracks donor types, causes they fund

Lisa McIntyre
Lisa McIntyre

Different kinds of donors tend to support different kinds of charitable causes, a new study says.

Only a minority of religious donors support specifically religious work through nonprofits, for example, while black donors are twice as likely as white donors to support higher education, and the causes people choose to support often are quite dependent on their political views, says Heart of the Donor, a study commissioned by Russ Reid Company in Pasadena, Calif., and conducted by Grey Matter Research & Consulting in Phoenix, Ariz.

Conducted by phone and online, both in English and Spanish, among a nationally representative sample of 2,005 American adults, the survey found that, among donors who attend religious worship services on a regular      basis, just 41 percent supported a cause they described as “religious,” other than any contributions they made to a place of worship.

In comparison, 68 percent of donors who attend religious services gave to disaster relief, 66 percent gave to domestic-hunger or poverty relief, 56 percent gave to help people with disabilities, 54 percent gave to health care or medical research, and 52 percent gave to veterans’ causes.

“It’s possible some religious donors are supporting disaster relief or domestic hunger through overtly religious organizations, but that’s not how they’re thinking of the work that’s being done,” Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, says in a statement.

Only 18 percent of donors who regularly attend worship services prefer to support groups that have their religious beliefs as a major part of everything they do, he says, and 28 percent prefer groups that have a religious background but are not necessarily conducting religious work.

And only 21 percent of Americans who financially support a place of worship in the last year also gave to a religious cause through a nonprofit, he says.

“It’s clear that a majority of religious donors are not actively seeking to support specifically religious work,” he says.

The study also found that political liberals are more likely than conservatives to contribute to animal welfare, the environment, human rights, education, cultural and policy causes, while political conservatives are more likely to give to veterans and religious causes.

Younger donors prefer human rights, child development, childhood education and cultural causes more than do older donors, while older donors are more likely than younger ones to support domestic hunger and poverty, religious, disabilities and, particularly, veterans causes, the study says.

Lisa McIntyre, senior vice president at Russ Reid Company, says in a statement that donors to any given nonprofit should “not be all lumped together,” and that nonprofits should “understand that the people they’re talking to – both existing and potential donors – may vary quite a bit depending on the kind of work that’s being done.”

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