State trails in donating to charity

Marylanders give more if they find personal connection, poll says

1,048 households surveyed

Task force seeks to raise contributions from wealthier ranks

September 29, 1999|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Marylanders say they're happy to give to charity if someone they know can show them a real need, according to a survey of more than 1,000 households of givers and nongivers around the state.

Maryland Gives!, a task force of state government and nonprofit officials trying to increase charitable giving in the state, commissioned the survey of 1,048 households to see why some of Maryland's most prosperous residents aren't sharing more.

Although it is the nation's fifth-wealthiest state, Maryland ranks at the bottom in several measures of giving among those who make more than $100,000 a year. Overall, Maryland lagged $200 behind the national average charitable tax deduction for 1997, the last year for which Internal Revenue Service statistics are available.

"We're not doing as well in Maryland as we can," said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who met with the task force yesterday. "In a sense, we have to be the catalyst for a cultural shift on what is expected."

One of the study's strongest conclusions: People are more likely to give money when they have a personal connection to the cause or are asked by someone they know -- not when celebrities pitch causes to them on television or solicitors call them at home.

"This in my mind really encourages organizations to personalize what they're doing, rather than institutionalizing what they're doing," said Donald Haynes, a professor at the University of Baltimore who conducted the survey at the university's Schaefer Center for Public Policy.

"Sally Struthers coming on and crying on TV aren't the things that really motivate people to give to charity," he said.

Among the survey's findings:

Nearly every respondent reported giving something to charity in the past two years. But 70 percent reported they gave less than $1,500 a year, and the bulk of that group gave less than $500.

Of the 189 people surveyed who made more than $100,000 a year, 87 -- or 46 percent -- donated less than $1,500 a year. Nineteen percent gave more than $5,000.

Givers were more likely to donate to social welfare causes, religious organizations, police and fire groups, and nonprofit groups that work to cure disease. Organizations working for the arts, drug and alcohol treatment, and relief overseas ranked lowest.

Only about a third of those responding said they would give more to charity if tax incentives were expanded to encourage giving -- though Haynes pointed out that could bring about a sizable increase in donations.

Those who answered the survey thought charities were important, but they wanted better information on how their money would be used.

The survey included anonymous quotations from other Marylanders who participated in focus groups over the past year on the subject of giving. Many expressed resentment at those who say they don't give enough.

"I have a problem with the individual who comes toward me with that kind of mannerism because you don't know what is going on in my pocket right now," said one person. "I know that, and each of us has different budgets."

Task force members, who plan to use the information to develop a charity awareness campaign and legislative strategy over the next year, said they weren't surprised by the attitudes reflected in the survey.

"I think it confirms that we have a general public that has a fairly large lack of knowledge about charitable giving," said Larry E. Walton, president of the United Way of Central Maryland and chairman of Maryland Gives!

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