What these 3 interactive charts tell us — and don’t tell us — about charity in Maine

The data analysts at finance site WalletHub, who regularly churn out reports on how cities and states compare across a wide variety of criteria, have turned their attention to the charitable giving habits of people in each state.

Like with most WalletHub studies, the researchers used broad statistics to reach general conclusions. These rankings should be considered a conversation starter, not a deep dive into the motivations of individual people, or even a nuanced look at conditions in any given state.

That said, they’re interesting to look at.

Here are three interactive charts drawn up by WalletHub to illustrate their findings, as well as what they tell us — and don’t tell us — about how Mainers give.

Chart No. 1: Mainers don’t donate as much money as people in most other states. If you count church giving, anyway.

Source: WalletHub

By scrolling over the state, you can see that Maine is ranked among the least charitable states, based on WalletHub’s formula, at No. 39 out of 50 (with No. 1 Utah being the most charitable).

Mainers fared particularly poorly in terms of how much of their income they donate, which is one of the many criteria factored into the overall ranking.

donated income

While WalletHub doesn’t say specifically which of its data sources informs which of its criteria, these figures presumably come from The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Charitable Giving Study.

The Chronicle used charitable donation claims on income tax forms to determine that, out of a median adjusted gross income of $76,929, each Mainer gave a median total of $2,062 in donations during the study year.

So are Mainers unwilling to help their fellow man? Not necessarily.

The Chronicle included donations to churches in these rankings, and so these numbers correlate pretty closely with the top and bottom states in terms of church attendance.

The states with the highest rates of church attendance are near the top of the donations list and the states with the lowest rates of church attendance are at the bottom.

So, statistically, Mainers aren’t going to — and by extension donating to — churches. But when you pull church donations from the equation, the list is effectively flipped, and the New England states leap to the front of the pack.

What does that mean? It means Mainers are giving as much or more directly to hospitals, schools and other charitable nonprofits as people in Utah or Alabama, but they’re not giving nearly as much to local houses of worship.

(Although, in fairness to churches, they do often turn around and use their donations to help people in need in their local communities, so it’s not as though church donations aren’t relevant.)

Chart No. 2: Mainers don’t have as much money to give, so we help with our hands

Source: WalletHub

This scatter chart shows how charitable giving relates to wealth in each state.

People in Maryland, for instance, statistically make a lot of money and give a lot of money away.

People in, say, New Jersey and California, by comparison, are making a lot of money, but not donating as much of it to charitable organizations (again, including churches).

And in Maine — which ranks among WalletHub’s 12 least charitable states as well as its nine poorest states — people aren’t donating a lot of money, in part, because they don’t have a lot of money to donate.

But to some degree, what Mainers lack in the ability to give money, they make up for in volunteering their time directly to help others.

Maine youth are particularly engaged in this way: The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement found that Maine 16- to 18-year-olds have a higher volunteerism rate than teens in all other states but Utah.

“If we don’t have as much money to give, at least we can be raising volunteers,” Adam Lacher, spokesman for the nonprofit United Way of Eastern Maine, once told the BDN.

Chart No. 3: Mainers talk a big game… and probably don’t claim much of their charitable giving on their tax forms

Source: WalletHub

Only 15 states have a wider disparity than Maine between what residents say they give to charity and what they actually give to charity, according to WalletHub’s metrics.

Again, it’s not immediately clear which data sources the WalletHub team used for each criteria.

However, this doesn’t mean Mainers are necessarily lying about their charitable habits. As mentioned above, The Chronicle of Philanthropy bases its charitable giving statistics on what people claim on their tax forms, as people can deduct donations when filing their annual tax paperwork.

The only trouble with that is, most Mainers don’t bother doing that.

(This might actually be a sign Mainers are being charitable for altruistic reasons, because they believe it’s the right thing to do, not because they think they get tax breaks out of it.)

Scott Schnapp, executive director of the Maine Association of Nonprofits, once told the BDN that, because nearly 70 percent of Mainers do not itemize their taxes, their charitable giving wouldn’t show up on The Chronicle’s radar screen.

(While it’s true most people nationwide do not itemize their taxes, Maine’s percentage is lower than the national average, and is 8-9 percentage points lower than top charity state Utah.)

So what The Chronicle’s numbers are showing is how much is being given by the 30ish percent of Mainers who bother to officially inform the government that they’re doing so.

Simply put, a person who gives $100 to his or her local food bank, tells a survey that he or she donated to charity — but doesn’t claim that deduction on his or her taxes — would likely show up in this chart. But that doesn’t mean there was a legitimate disparity between the person’s claims of charitable giving and actual charitable giving, just that the actual charitable giving wasn’t tracked by the IRS.

Featured main page photo by Steven Depolo, used under Creative Commons license.