Updated on Thursday, October 3, 2019
In order to find the most charitable places in America, researchers analyzed data for the 100 largest metro areas.
Giving to charity is a good thing, generally speaking. Not only may you support a cause you care about, but it could help lower your tax burden if you itemize deductions.
However, despite these benefits, our researchers found that certain places in the U.S. are more charitable than others. They compared 2017 itemized tax returns and analyzed data for the 100 largest metro areas to determine which places in the U.S. were the most charitable.
- Ogden, Utah, is the most charitable place in the U.S., followed by Birmingham, Alabama and Memphis.
- In Birmingham, more than 89% of tax returns itemized deduction donations to charity.
- Southern metro areas tended to be the most charitable. Seven of the top 10 most charitable places are in the South.
- Religious centers tended to be more charitable than non-religious. The religious South and Utah tended to be the more charitable, while the less-religious Northeast tended to score the worst in our metrics. One obvious explanation for this is that church donations are tax-deductible for people who itemize.
- Springfield, Massachusetts was the least charitable metro area in the study. People itemizing their tax returns there gave just 2% of their income.
- Springfield’s neighbors were also stingy when it came to giving to charity. Worcester came in second-to-last. Here, tax returns with itemized deductions showed an average of 1.8% of income donated to charity.
- The poorest who gave to charity tended to be the most generous, although the poorest tended to donate the least often, a fact that has not changed over time. According to 2016 data, Americans who earned at least $1 but less than $10,000 donated 14% of their income on average, though just 58.5% of them had charitable deductions.
- The rich are more likely to have charitable deductions but tend to give a smaller portion of their income.
Rankings: The most charitable U.S. metro areas
This map shows how the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S. ranked according to the percentage of people who took charitable donation deductions on their tax returns in 2017. Areas represented by a blue dot are the most charitable, while those represented with orange dots are the least charitable. Purple and red dots represent areas that fall in the middle of our rankings.
The most charitable metro areas are located in states that are known for being heavily religious — Utah and the Bible Belt in the Southeast. The Northeast tends to be less religious and is blanketed with metro areas that have low donation rates.
Utah is a standout state when it comes to charitable giving, with two metro areas in the top 10. Ogden claims the top spot, and Salt Lake City comes in sixth place. Most of the rest of the top 10 is made up of metro areas in the Southeast: Birmingham, Ala. (second), Memphis, Tenn. (third), Atlanta (fourth), and Augusta, Ga. (fifth).
Springfield, Mass., is at the very bottom of our list rankings, with Worcester, Mass., following in the 99th slot. The rest of the bottom five includes: Scranton, Penn. (98th), Allentown, Pa. (96th), and Providence, R.I. (95th). Portland, Ore., represents the west coast as the 97th least charitable metro area on the list.
How charitable Americans are at different income levels
The following graphic shows how rates of charitable giving differ at various income levels. Each blue bar shows the percentage of tax returns on which itemized charitable donations were claimed at each income level. Each purple bar shows the average percentage of one’s income those charitable donations make up in each income bracket.
Overall, 81.9% of people itemized charitable deductions on their tax returns, and those donations make up an average of 3.4% of their income. Those who make more money tend to give to charity more often. Of people making $200,000 or more per year, 91% claim charitable deductions, while only 58.5% of those making less than $10,000 do so.
It’s not those who make the most who give the biggest portion of their income to charity, though. Those who make less than $10,000 a year give the biggest portion of their earnings (14%). Americans who make $100,000 to $199,000 give the smallest proportion of their income at just 2.7%.
Changes in charitable giving by year
In order to determine how charitable Americans are over time, we looked at charitable donations over a 12-year span. The following graphic reveals charitable giving as a percentage of income across various income levels.
Overall, the average percentage of income that’s claimed as a charitable donation has remained at fairly consistent levels between the years of 2004 (3.6%) and 2016 (3.5%). It dipped to a low of 3% in 2008, in the midst of the Great Recession.
Lower income brackets tend to have more ups and downs in charitable giving. In 2004, those making $5,000 or less donated an average 19.4% of their income to charity. But in 2007 and 2012, that average dropped to 14.6%.
Those in the highest income bracket on the graph ($10 million or more) made a significant jump in charitable donations in the last two years we analyzed, with their charitable donations going from 7% to 9.1% of their income.
5 tips if you’re donating to charity
While your intentions to donate to charity may be purely altruistic, if you’re making them, you may as well get credit for them if you can. Here are five things to keep in mind when making charitable contributions:
- Research charities before donating. Sites such as Charity Navigator and GuideStar provide information about charity missions, as well as how they operate and spend money.
- Ask for verification of an organization’s tax status before donating. In order for your donation to be tax deductible, it must be made to an organization that qualifies under IRS guidelines as tax-exempt.
- Remember: You can only claim charitable donations if you itemize your taxes. You won’t qualify for a deduction if you take the standard deduction. If your deductible expenses including charitable donations are greater than the standard exemption ($24,400 for married couples and $12,200 for single taxpayers in 2019) then itemizing can save you money. (If you’re unsure whether itemizing your taxes makes sense, you may need to seek out a pro.)
- Request and keep your receipts. While you don’t need to submit them with your tax return, if you ever get audited, you want to have them on hand.
- Keep these two dates in mind. Remember that even though taxes must be filed by April 15 each year, charitable deductions must be made by the end of the calendar year (December 31) in order to be claimed on your taxes for that year.
In order to find the most charitable places in the U.S., researchers analyzed data for the 100 largest metro areas. Specifically, we compared them across the following three categories:
- Percent of itemized returns with charitable donations. Data comes from the IRS and is for the 2017 filing year.
- Percent of adjusted gross income given to charity. This is the total deducted amount from charitable donations divided by total adjusted gross income for itemized returns. Data comes from the IRS and is for the 2017 filing year.
- Average itemized charitable donation. This is the total amount donated to charity divided by the number of returns deducting charitable donations. Data comes from the IRS and is for the 2017 filing year.
We then created a score averaging the three percentile ranks each metro scored in each metric. Each metric was given the same weight. For the over-time data, we looked at the percent of adjusted gross income given to charity for each income bracket from 2004 to 2016.