Data Tracker

Are Sacramentans stingy? Charitable giving falls short of state and nation

By Phillip Reese -

This week marked the Big Day of Giving in the Sacramento area, when the region's nonprofits appeal for financial help.

It's as good a time as any to ponder an uncomfortable fact: Sacramento residents, on average, have devoted a smaller portion of their income to charities than the rest of the state and nation in recent years.

Households in the four-county region gave about 2.6 percent of their income to charitable causes in 2013, according to recently released IRS figures that detail itemized tax returns. By comparison, residents statewide reported donating about 2.9 percent of their income to charitable causes. Nationwide, Americans gave about 3.3 percent of their income to charity that year. A similar pattern held true in 2012. The rates of charitable giving in Yolo and El Dorado counties in 2013 put them in the bottom 10 percent among counties nationwide.  Sacramento and Placer were in the bottom 20 percent.

A couple of major factors may help explain the numbers.

First, the Sacramento region and California as a whole have a relatively low rate of residents who say they attend church regularly - and churches are among the chief recipients of charitable giving.

The areas in the nation with the highest rates of giving, according to the IRS figures, were the southern USA and Utah. Those areas also have the most residents who identify as "very religious," according to Gallup. In those places, tithing - giving of 10 percent of one's income to church - is encouraged from the pulpit and ingrained in the culture.

It's a different story in California. About 33 percent of Californians consider themselves very religious, compared to 40 percent nationwide, according to Gallup. In the Sacramento region, about 37 percent of residents are affiliated with a religious body, compared to 49 percent nationwide, according to a 2010 census by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.

Another possible factor in the giving gap: The Sacramento region doesn't have as much wealth as other parts of California. A multi-million dollar gift from a Mark Zuckerberg or Eli Broad can hugely bolster a region's giving rate.

The Sacramento region is home to more than 6 percent of the state's residents - but encompasses just 1 percent of the households that made more than $1 million in 2013, according to the Franchise Tax Board.

Take big givers out of the equation, and Sacramento starts to compare well to the rest of the state. Sacramento households earning between $50,000 and $100,000 who itemized their tax returns gave 2.9 percent of their income to charities, about the same as the statewide average. Sacramento households earning $100,000 to $200,000 gave about 2.3 percent of their income to charity; again, even with the statewide average.

Sources: IRS; Franchise Tax Board | Note: Only includes itemized tax returns. Those returns account for about 70 percent of the income earned in the Sacramento region.

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