Utahns give far more of their income to charity than any other Americans, a Deseret News study of Internal Revenue Service tax data shows.
Utahns reported providing $2.9 billion to charity in 2006, or 5 percent of their adjusted gross income.
Nationally, Americans gave an average of 2.3 percent of their income that year — or less than half of what Utahns provided.
Economists, politicians and officers of nonprofits say most Utah donations go to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which tackles many of the state's charitable needs. Other Utah groups, from the United Way to political parties, say they raise less here than organizations similar to them in other states.
In short, they report tough fundraising among very charitable people.
"There is such a thing as an income constraint. Assuming people have a budget for charitable giving, if they are tied into a particular nonprofit such as the LDS Church … it makes sense that's where a disproportionate share of giving would go," said University of Utah research economist Pam Perlich.
The Deseret News looked at IRS individual tax return data for 2006, the most recent year it is available for local levels. It figured what percentage of the adjusted gross income for different geographic areas was reported as donated to charities.
Of course, not all people itemize deductions — so actual amounts given to charity are almost surely higher than the numbers reported here. Also not counted are such things as hours volunteered by youth coaches and Sunday School teachers, bequests from estates or money sent by residents to needy relatives in such places as Mexico or Africa.
The Deseret News analysis led to some other interesting findings.
For example, how much Utahns give to charity varies greatly in different ZIP codes. It ranges from a high of 11.4 percent of income in a downtown Salt Lake City ZIP code surrounding Temple Square and LDS Church headquarters to a low of 0.07 percent in the ZIP code for the University of Utah.
Also, Utah taxpayers in richer categories do not always pay more of their income to charity than do less-fortunate brackets.
In 2006, the average adjusted gross income among the more than 1 million returns filed by Utahns was $53,443. A bit more than a third of those filers itemized charitable deductions on forms that year to gain bigger tax deductions.
Of those Utahns who itemized, the average amount they gave to charity was $7,495 (compared to a national average of $4,399).
Scholarly studies of charitable giving usually average donations among all returns, not just those that itemized. The average charitable donation per return for all filers in Utah was $2,698, or 5 percent of average adjusted gross income. Nationally, it was $1,319, or 2.3 percent of average income.
While the LDS Church declined comment for this story, scholarly studies have long surmised that Utah's unusually high charitable giving is because of its high number of Mormons who live here.
The church teaches its faithful to give 10 percent of income as tithing and to skip two meals the first "fast" Sunday of every month to give the money saved or more to help the needy. It also raises money for humanitarian work worldwide, for missionary work and for educating Mormons in Third World countries.
"Obviously, the LDS Church garners a great proportion of that (overall) money," said Dave Hansen, chairman of the Utah Republican Party, which finds it a bit hard to raise money here in part because Utahns give so much to churches.
"Everybody has a disposable amount of income they can give to various charities or political groups. Charities tend to come first, and there's probably nothing wrong with that," Hansen said.
Deborah Bayle, president and CEO of the United Way of Salt Lake, which gathers donations to spread among a score of other non-profits, also said that despite being in the heart of charitable Utahns, "We actually raise less here than other United Ways of comparable size."
She adds, however, "Because of the LDS Church's welfare system, they take care of a lot of the issues that other nonprofits would take care of in other communities. So all in all, I think it all works out."
Still, she added, "One of the studies that I've seen in the past showed that if giving to religious organizations is excluded that we (in Utah) fall down pretty dramatically."
Bayle also said, "We actually have fewer donors (than United Ways of similar size), but the donors that we have actually give more — so it's just the opposite of what you might think" where cash-strapped-but-charitable Utahns might still give but in smaller amounts.
Despite big overall charitable contributions by Utahns, political scientists have long noted that political campaigns have trouble raising money in the state — and huge proportions of money to candidates here come from out of state.
"There's no question that Utah, by and large, does not have a culture of political giving," said Todd Taylor, executive director of Utah Democratic Party. But he doesn't necessarily blame that on large amounts given to the LDS Church.
He said Utahns "are giving of their money here when asked. The campaign laws here have allowed political action committees and corporations to have a disproportionate effect."
In short, it's easier for politicians to raise money by asking a few PACs and corporations for big donations than seeking small donations from scores of individuals.
Hansen with the Republican Party said one big exception has come to tough political fundraising in Utah, and it had an LDS tie.
"Mitt Romney (a Mormon) seemed to be able to break through that barrier in the last presidential campaign," he said, noting that Romney shattered records here by raising more than $6 million in the state.
"It was an extraordinary amount for one candidate to raise in Utah," he said. "Hopefully that barrier of getting political contributions will have been broken by what he was able to do."
ZIP code differences
Charitable giving varies greatly in different ZIP codes in Utah.
Giving the biggest proportion of their income were the 113 people who filed tax returns with addresses in ZIP code 84150 — a small area including LDS Church office buildings and Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City. That ZIP has no residences, so those filing likely work for or are officials of the church.
They gave 11.4 percent of their average adjusted gross income to charity.
Others in the top 10 ZIP codes were heavily concentrated in Utah County.
That top 10 includes: 84662 in Sanpete County's Spring City, 10.07 percent; 84604 in Provo, 8.74 percent; 84649 in Millard County's Oak City, 8.73 percent; 84004 in Alpine, 8.72 percent; 84042 in Lindon, 8.52 percent; 84664 in Mapleton, 8.5 percent; 84097 in Orem, 8.46 percent; 84710 in Kane County's Alton, 8.41 percent; and 84003 in American Fork, 8.24 percent.
A list of how much was given in each Utah ZIP code where at least some residents itemized deductions is available online at deseretnews.com.
On the other end of the spectrum, the ZIP code where tax filers reported giving the least of their income to charity was 84112 around the University of Utah. Of course, students tend to make little money and have less reason to itemize deductions on tax returns. (Several other ZIP codes had no one itemize deductions.)
Several ZIP codes where few charitable deductions were reported are on Indian reservations. Among them were 84026 in Ouray on the Ute Reservation, 0.29 percent of income; 84534 in Montezuma Creek on the Navajo Reservation, 0.31 percent; and 84512 in Bluff near the Navajo Reservation, 0.42 percent.
By sheer dollar amount — not percentage of income — the 1,850 people who itemized charitable deductions in ZIP code 84004 in Alpine reported giving the most, $25,495 each.
Behind them were 84150 (the ZIP with LDS Church headquarters), $18,827; 84781 in Washington County's Pine Valley, $16,192; 84604 in Provo, $16,112; and 84662 in Spring City, $14,987.
Poor vs. rich
Being in a higher income bracket in Utah does not always mean people give more to charity than those who earn less.
The income bracket that gives the most to charity — 6 percent of income — are those who earn between $100,000 and 200,000 a year.
But that is not the top income bracket. That is for those who make more than $200,000. But they actually pay a little less to charity, 5.69 percent of their income.
The bracket that pays the least, just 1.5 percent of income to charity, are those who make between $10,000 and $25,000.
But they are not the poorest income bracket. Below them are those who earn less than $10,000 a year. But they give more to charity, 3.2 percent of their income.
The percentage to charity for other income brackets includes: 3.04 percent for those who earn $25,000 to $50,000, 4.86 percent for those who earn $50,000 to $75,000, and 5.65 percent for those who earn $75,000 to $100,000.
Editor's note: A breakdown of charitable giving by Utah ZIP codes is available online at deseretnews.com.
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