The Albany metropolitan area, which includes Schenectady and Troy, is one of the least generous metropolitan areas in the country, according to a new Chronicle of Philanthropy study that charts donation patterns in every state, city and ZIP code in America.
In terms of charitable giving, Albany was ranked 334 out of 366 metropolitan areas — below locales such as New York City (169), Ithaca (234), Rochester (279), Poughkeepsie (306) and the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area (314). Faring even worse than Albany were Utica (344) and Glens Falls (356).
According to the study, New York state as a whole is the 17th most generous state in the country, and a much more giving place than many of its Northeastern neighbors, which were found to be among the stingiest states in the country. The five least generous states in America were Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire.
New York’s relative generosity can largely be attributed to higher-than-average rates of giving in downstate communities.
“Despite the large number of wealthy households in the state, the typical rate of giving is average, at 4.7 percent of discretionary income,” the report notes. “New York contains the ZIP codes with the largest total contributions and highest median contributions in the country. ZIP code 10021 (Manhattan’s Upper East Side) contributed more in total dollars than any other place in the country, providing $478 million.”
There, residents gave 8.1 percent of their discretionary income to charity; in New York City overall, residents gave 7.4 percent.
Donald Siegel, dean of the School of Business at the University at Albany, said New York’s ranking is actually “better than it sounds.” He said New York is a high tax state and “it’s hard to be philanthropic when the government is taking a large share of your wealth.”
Other high tax states, such as Massachusetts, were less giving than New York, he said.
Siegel said Wall Street has been a source of vilification in recent years, but New York City and other downstate communities actually have a strong culture of philanthropy.
“They donate a lot of money to charity,” he said.
In the Albany metropolitan area, the median charitable contribution was $1,832, the median discretionary income $54,870, and the typical household gave 3.3 percent, for a total of $335.1 million in charitable contributions. In Schenectady, residents gave 3.7 percent of their income, compared to 4.5 percent in Albany, 3.4 percent in Saratoga Springs, 3.3 percent in Amsterdam, 2.3 percent in Middleburgh and 3 percent in Gloversville.
To account for differences in the cost of living throughout America, the Chronicle of Philanthropy compared giving rates after residents paid taxes, housing, food and other necessities.
The study was based on the most recent available Internal Revenue Service records of Americans who itemized their deductions, and examined taxpayers who earned $50,000 or more in 2008. According to the study, these taxpayers donated a median of 4.7 percent of their discretionary income to charity, for a total of $135 billion — nearly two-thirds of the $214 billion donated by all individuals that year.
In the highest ranked states, the average household gave more than 7 percent of its income to charity, while the average household in the lowest ranked states gave less than 3 percent.
Charitable giving to the United Way of the Greater Capital Region lags behind giving to most other United Ways throughout the state, including those in Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo and Utica, according to Brian Hassett, the organization’s president.
“We’re bringing up the rear,” Hassett said.
Hassett was hired last September from the United Way in Phoenix with the goal of increasing both personal and corporate giving to the United Way of the Greater Capital Region. He said the organization’s most recent fund drive, which ended in March, brought in about $7.5 million, down from a peak of $10 million.
During his time in Phoenix, the United Way increased its fund drive take from $19 million to $50 million over the course of seven years, and he hopes to increase giving in the Capital Region to between $15 million and $20 million.
“I think it’s possible, if we get enough people behind it,” he said. “We just have to get more people.”
He said he didn’t think Capital Region residents are less generous than others, but that getting people to give is simply a matter of describing the area’s need and asking for help.
“We have to get out and tell that story,” he said.
Hassett said that a relatively small number of companies are headquartered in the Capital Region, which might partially explain why giving lags here, because corporate-based giving is one of United Way’s main sources of funds. Price Chopper and General Electric are both generous, he said, combining for about $2 million in gifts to the organization.
The drop in United Way giving has occurred at a time when the need for services is exploding, with rates of homelessness and domestic violence climbing and more children attending afterschool programs for at-risk children, Hassett said.
According to the philanthropy study, conservative red states are generally more generous than liberal-leaning blue states.
“The eight states where residents gave the highest share of income to charity went for John McCain in 2008,” noted the Chronicle. “The seven-lowest ranking states supported Barack Obama.”
Regions of the country that are more religious, such as the South, also had higher rates of giving; Utah and Idaho both have high numbers of Mormon residents, and Mormons have a tradition of tithing — giving at least 10 percent of their income to the church. According to the study, the five most charitable states in the country are Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina.
Geographic differences in giving are also evident in cities. Residents of Salt Lake City, Memphis and Birmingham, Ala., “typically give at least 7 percent of their discretionary income to charity, while those in Boston and Providence average less than 3 percent,” the Chronicle reported.
Siegel said these differences didn’t surprise him.
“I’m a conservative,” he said. “People in red states are hard-working, virtuous and charitable. People vilify the red states, but they’re doing something that’s good for humanity.”
The study also found that middle-class Americans give a “far bigger share” of their discretionary income to charities than the rich. Households that earned between $50,000 and $75,000 give an average of 7.6 percent of their discretionary income to charity, while households that earned $100,000 or more give an average of 4.2 percent.
Churches are considered charities, and when religious giving is disregarded, Northeast states fared much better.