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Dec. 14, 2006 • Volume 15 Number 8

BC Researchers Say Massachusetts Among the Top 10 in Charitable Giving

Massachusetts ranks among the top 10 states in charitable giving, according to new research by the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College.

The center also identifies New York, Utah, California, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, Georgia, Hawaii and South Carolina as the most generous states. In addition, the District of Columbia was second only to New York in the new report, released last month by the Boston Foundation.

The report on charitable giving is a follow-up to last year's study "Generosity and Geography," which was researched by center director Prof. Paul G. Schervish (Sociology) and associate director John J. Havens. That report was commissioned as part of a body of research on prospects of future philanthropy in Greater Boston.

"Generosity and Geography" raised serious questions about the validity of the Generosity Index, published annually by the Catalogue for Philanthropy, which purports to rank all 50 states in terms of generosity. The Boston Foundation report challenged the conclusions of the Generosity Index by eliminating what the foundation believes is its built-in bias against high-income states that makes the Generosity Index an inaccurate comparative measure of charitable giving.

Schervish and Havens created a new methodology that takes into consideration each state's cost of living and the tax burden, including changes within states that are driven by levels of urbanization - which affects cost of living at the more local level. The 2006 report includes all of these variables.

As in the 2005 report, Schervish and Havens call for avoiding the word "generosity" in this and similar works of research.

"Generosity is a moral, spiritual or social psychological characteristic of individuals and perhaps families and households," the authors write. "We do not believe that the term generosity should be associated with our measures, nor any other measures that do not directly study the inner disposition...of generosity. In truth, every purported generosity index that has ranked states is, in fact, a charitable giving index."

The report underscores the fact that for many in Massachusetts, the high cost of housing and other necessities of life places a significant burden on the ability of many families and individuals to make charitable contributions. Yet, unlike some surveys of giving in recent months that have focused only on residents with the highest levels of income or personal wealth, the current report includes the entire population of the state.

"There are many important characteristics that have an impact on the decisions individuals and families make about charitable giving," said Schervish. "Religious affiliation, the presence of nonprofit organizations to create giving opportunities, ethnic differences - even the nature of work residents of an area traditionally engage in can have an effect.

"Farmers may tend to hold more money in reserve because their livelihood is so vulnerable to the whims of weather. It would be inappropriate to describe farmers as less generous as a result - in their case, giving less may make compelling sense. This charitable giving index takes that context into consideration."

The study is available at the Boston College web site for the CWP at www.bc.edu/research/swri. -Office of Public Affairs

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