Most Rich People Are Donating To Charity, But They’re Giving Less Than Before

Meanwhile, the middle class is giving proportionately more.

Most Rich People Are Donating To Charity, But They’re Giving Less Than Before
[Photo: Fabian Blank]

Not surprisingly, people with the most money appear to be giving the most cash to charity. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t finding subtle ways to be stingy.


Take the 2016 U.S. Trust Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy released in late October, which reports that 91% of high net worth individual households—those with a net worth of at least $1 million and making $200,000 or more annually—gave to charity last year. That sounds good, right? Their average contribution was about $25,500 each. That dwarfs the typical American’s actions. (Only 59% of whom give, and then at an average rate that’s 10 times lower.)

But as Co.Exist has pointed out before, monetary averages are different than medians; they can be distorted by extremely high or low numbers. Based on a Chronicle of Philanthropy investigation, the amount that the rich give relative to their overall income has been dropping in recent years, while the middle class are actually giving proportionately more. For context, total contributions from Americans reached the highest total ever in 2015 at $373 billion according to Giving USA. Household donations make up the vast majority of that spread.

Still, deep-pocketed donors seem optimistic. According to the U.S. Trust study, 83% say they plan to give the same or more through 2018 at least. (Fewer also plan to reduce offerings compared to what they’ve claimed in the past.) For groups hoping to assure their larger lump sums keep coming, the study highlights a few quirks to keep in mind. The vast majority of big-time donors “do not monitor or evaluate” their investments. Inevitably, most are also “not sure whether their gifts are achieving the impact they desire.”

Long term, the industry’s shift toward better transparency with tools like data visualization software could change that. (Here’s another Co.Exist story about how it works.) But there may also be a pretty low-tech way to keep the cash spigot open.

“Wealthy individuals who volunteered in 2015 gave 56% more on average than those who did not volunteer,” the report notes. The easiest way to win more trust and understanding among givers could be just to get them more involved.

About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.