Is the Link Between Religiosity and Giving Fraying? Study of Women in Giving Suggests It May Be So

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NPQ would like to hear from its readers on a very interesting possible trend in charitable giving. What’s your analysis of this issue?

Most of us in the nonprofit sector are used to looking at a pie chart of giving wherein the biggest slice by far is devoted to giving to religious institutions. Last year, however, according to Giving USA, that pie slice declined as a proportion of the whole from 32% to 31%. Giving to religious institutions was essentially stagnant while other giving was increasing.

Now, we have Women Give 2014, a study released by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at IUPUI, which points to an interesting trend among women that may begin to connect a few dots for us. According to that study:

  • Younger single women who are not religiously affiliated, here referred to as “nones,” give on average twice as much as women who are affiliated with religious institutions, but only attend services infrequently.
  • Younger single “none” women give twice as much to institutions that are not religiously affiliated as they do to those that are.
  • Among younger “nones” of both sexes, women give twice as much as men.
  • Younger women who are “nones” give two-and-a-half times as much as older women who are also “nones.”

What this report cannot tell us is whether the giving pattern exhibits a trend that will last or is simply a function of our current age.

Context: Since 1987, the number of Americans who do not identify with any religious affiliation has increased from 7 percent to 20 percent. Among younger Americans, that number is 30 percent.

As was said in the report, though the issues of religious giving and giving by women have been studied separately in the past, no study has looked at gender, religiosity, and giving as a whole. They ask, “If religiosity-giving patterns differ between women and men, what does this mean for charitable organizations in the future?”

We encourage our readers to look at the rest of this interesting report and please share with us and your colleagues the thoughts you have about the implications of this trend.—Ruth McCambridge


  • Erin Lamb

    I am curious if this study took into consideration other factors such as work status. The reason I bring this up is that I am a young (30) woman who is religiously affiliated, but I have been involved with nonprofit work for my entire career, so I support nonprofit organizations through money and goods as much as possible and covering a lot of sectors– women’s shelters, Goodwill, health and fitness organizations, service organizations, and arts programs.

    Also, I am not a single woman, however, I do not have any children and I would have to imagine that also plays a role in my contributions as compared to non-single women who do have children.

  • Bryan

    Interesting trend information. To me there is a piece of the puzzle that clouds the easy comparisons and trending of this data. Thirty years ago, there were a limited number of “religious organizations” that were not churches. There are now significantly more para-church organizations and more of them have scaled and become good at raising money. So.. is the classification of “religious” fund raising limited to churches and the clear trend is that giving to churches is decreasing or does religious fund raising include the entire, expanded segment of these organizations and all giving that is religiously motivated is decreasing?

  • Jeanne

    I was struck by the statement that unaffiliated young women give twice as much as unaffiliated young men. Same category, only gender distinctions. How can nonprofits tell this story and encourage the young women to influence the young men in their lives?

  • Simone Joyaux

    Always good to have more research. Always good to ask questions about the research.

    I don’t find this research surprising. And I’m thrilled that there is more and more research about women’s giving … It’s amazing the number of organizations (and men) who think that research about women’s giving is unimportant. How foolish. There are more and more single women – and women without children. Women live longer than men – and so those women partnered with men will inherit everything. And yet… Not many NGOs have giving / fundraising programs directed specifically at women. And…far too many NGOs don’t have sufficient numbers of women on their boards, in leadership positions, etc.

    As I reflect on the research I’ve read over decades:
    — First, for the individual who asked about giving to religion and giving to religiously-affiliated organizations: Giving USA, the 40+ years of annual giving in the U.S. shows that giving to religion “continues to slow.” And this specifically means giving to one’s church, mosque, synagogue… Giving to religious-oriented charitable organizations (e.g., healthcare, human services, etc.) is categorized within those sub sectors, not within religion. In fact, the Giving USA report notes that one reason for the decline in giving to religion is because of the “declining religious affiliation and attendance and increased giving to religious-oriented charitable organizations categorized within the other subsectors.” Other research indicates that the U.S. is moving towards a more secular society, like most of the Western world.

    — Research about women (as consumers and donors) indicates that women who are partnered with men are the leaders in purchasing and giving decisions.

    — Prior research has indicated that single women give more than single men.

    — Women also give for different reasons than men. See all the research and writing about women’s giving.

    I’m not at all surprised that middle-age and older people “exhibit more intensive religiosity than younger people.” That’s the status quo. That’s culture.

    Maybe, finally, this country / our society is finally recognizing (and accepting) that agnostics and atheists exist, are fine people, engage in the community, etc. Maybe people are recognizing that religiosity doesn’t belong in government and needn’t belong in philanthropy.

    Other research indicates that younger people are much more comfortable with marriage equality, for example…and that means interracial and same sex. And younger people are more comfortable with gender identity. So is there any causal relationship between declining religiosity and changing cultural norms?

    For me the most important thing is to understand that there is research we should all be reading as professionals. And we need to share this research with our bosses and boards. And we need to learn and change and apply research if we are to be successful.