Each summer, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) publishes selected data from individual tax returns filed during the previous calendar year that include ranges of adjusted gross income (AGI) and deductions for charitable donations. The National Center for Charitable Statistics at the Urban Institute has summarized charitable giving by state and tracks changes in charitable giving across states and over time.
The source of the data on charitable giving is the Statistics of Income Bulletin, published by the IRS. Since only returns with itemized contributions are included, IRS data do not account for all contributions. In 2012, 32 percent of US taxpayers chose to itemize deductions on their returns. This means that two-thirds of US taxpayers take the standard deduction, and thus, no details on their charitable contributions are available. No one knows how much nonitemizers donate to charity, although some researchers have created estimates. For example, Giving USA, published by the Giving USA Foundation, estimates that total individual giving in the United States was $228.93 billion in 2012. Based on this estimate, the $198.0 billion reported as itemized contributions on 2012 tax returns represents over 86 percent of all individual giving. The 2012 data on itemized deductions used in this analysis, therefore, cover about a third of US taxpayers and over four-fifths of the charitable contributions. Thus, in spite of the limitations, analyses of the data can provide information on giving patterns.
Total reported charitable deductions were $198.0 billion in 2012, compared with $174.5 billion in 2011, an increase of 13.4 percent.
The average charitable contribution per return filed in 2012 was about 2.2 percent of income. Contributions as a percentage of income ranged from 1.2 percent in New Hampshire and North Dakota to 12.8 percent in Wyoming. Though the average charitable deduction per return was $1,372 in 2012, state averages ranged from $615 in West Virginia to $12,480 in Wyoming.
Comparing the States
One reason it is difficult to use tax return data to compare levels of charitable giving by individuals in different states is that there are wide disparities in the percentages of filers who itemize. For example, comparisons between states like Maryland, where 47 percent of all tax returns are itemized, and West Virginia, where only 18 percent of all tax returns are itemized, would probably provide limited information.
Moreover, states vary widely in average income per resident. AGI per return filed in 2012 was highest in Wyoming ($97,337) and lowest in Mississippi ($44,819). The national average was $62,522. Therefore, giving as a percentage of income should be considered in addition to the amount given.
What Do the Rankings Mean?
As mentioned above, it is important to consider average income when examining rates of giving. The “average adjusted gross income per income tax return” rank shows the average income of tax return filers in each state. This rank provides a baseline against which level of giving can be compared.
The “average charitable contribution per income tax return” rank is based on the total amount of charitable deductions itemized in a state divided by the total number of filers. Because contributions of the itemizers are divided by the total number of returns in a state (which range from 13.0 to 39.4 percent of the state’s filers), this rank tends to be low if the percentage of returns with itemized charitable deductions is low. Average contribution per return is, at best, an approximation of giving in a state because it does not take into account whether or how much nonitemizers contribute.
The “average charitable contribution per return as a percentage of adjusted gross income per return” rank adjusts the “average charitable contribution per income tax return” rank by taking income levels into account. This rank shows the average amount given relative to the average income per filer in a state. Again, this ranking does not account for charitable donations made by nonitemizers.
Other Sources of Data on Giving
Chronicle of Philanthropy. 2015. “How America Gives.” Washington, DC: Chronicle of Philanthropy.
- This is a periodically updated interactive resource that displays patterns of giving broken down to the county level.
Giving USA Foundation. 2013. Giving USA 2013: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2012. Indianapolis, IN: Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
- This publication is updated annually and provides national data on sources of giving (individuals, foundations, corporations, bequests) and on categories of recipients.
National Center for Charitable Statistics. Various years. “Profiles of Individual Charitable Contributions by State.” Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
- This brief is published annually. We consulted all versions from 1995 to 2011.
Roeger, Katie L., Amy S. Blackwood, and Sarah L. Pettijohn. 2012. The Nonprofit Almanac 2012. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.
- This provides the essential facts and figures for managers, researchers, and volunteers, and it includes a section on trends in private giving.
Statistics of Income Division. 2015. IRS Statistics of Income Bulletin. Washington, DC.: Internal Revenue Service.
- This bulletin is published four times a year and presents selected data compiled from individual tax returns and broken down by state. The primary source for this report was made available here in August 2014.
About the National Center for Charitable Statistics
The National Center for Charitable Statistics is the national repository of data on the nonprofit sector in the United States. Its mission is to develop and disseminate high quality data on nonprofit organizations and their activities for use in research on the relationships between the nonprofit sector, government, the commercial sector, and the broader civil society.
This brief was funded by the Urban Institute. The views expressed are those of the author and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders. Funders do not determine our research findings or the insights and recommendations of our experts. Further information on the Urban Institute’s funding principles is available at www.urban.org/support.