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As the holiday giving season approaches, Utahns have yet another reason to dig a little deeper into their pockets — they have a reputation to uphold.

According to new research from the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, Utah ranked third in 2004 charitable giving in relation to the state's average household income.

According to the report, Utahns gave $2.6 billion in charitable contributions in 2004, putting the state's mean contribution per household at $3,405.

"I think what that just shows is that we are a giving culture here and it's a big part of what we believe in here in Utah," said Deborah Bayle Nielsen, CEO and president of the United Way of Salt Lake, which serves Davis, Salt Lake, Summit and Tooele counties.

"Let's uphold that reputation, absolutely."

Nationally, Americans gave a total of $198.9 billion, or $1,753 per household, in 2004, the report states. The research factored in variables such as costs of living and tax burdens to find each state's relative giving index.

Utah consistently ranks high in national studies on charitable giving and voluntarism, and the Boston College report offers the state's high percentage of members The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a reason why.

The study notes that about 50 percent of all charitable giving is religious giving, specifically recognizing members of the LDS Church, who are asked to tithe 10 percent of their income and encouraged to also make other offerings.

"Members ... consistently give larger average amounts and larger percentages of their income to religion in every state as compared to adherents of other religions," the study states.

Religious donations set the stage for expanded giving to other organizations and in other ways, said Amberlie Phillips with the Utah Food Bank.

"I think for a lot of people that's just kind of the beginning," Phillips said. "It leads to a much easier understanding of philanthropy if you're already making the donation through your religious group."

The food bank has regular supporters who give thousands, and even tens of thousands, of dollars each year, she said. But the majority of donations come as small, personal checks, often for $25 or less.

"Particularly this time of year we see thousands of those coming in," Phillips said. "I think people just really understand that their donation makes a difference."


E-mail: awelling@desnews.com