Catholic philanthropy, the focus of this issue of our magazine, is an important strand in the rich tapestry of American faith-based charitable giving. From Lutheran social services to Adventist hospitals to Jewish day schools, from Baylor University to Davidson College to Brigham Young University, from the Union Gospel Missions to World Vision to Sikh temples offering assistance to the needy of all faiths, religious giving and charitable institutions are central to American life.
Since colonial times, faith and charitable giving have always gone together in American history. In 1638, John Harvard left his 400-volume library and £779 (half of his estate) to endow a seminary in Massachusetts. In the 18th century, Mexican donations to the “Pious Fund of the Californias” (El Fondo Piadoso) sustained the early Franciscan missions in Alta California. Today, one-third of all charitable giving in America—$100 billion out of $300 billion per year—goes to religion. Americans are the most religious people of any leading modern economy—which helps to explain why America is by far the most charitable country on earth.
In his 2006 book, Who Really Cares, Arthur Brooks marshals some astonishing statistics about active religious faith and observance as a determinant of charitable giving. Ameri-cans who attend church or synagogue or another form of worship once per week give 3.5 times as much to charity as a percentage of their income as do those who rarely attend religious services. They also give of their time, volunteering twice as often. “People who pray every day (whether or not they go to church) are 30 percentage points more likely to give money to charity than people who never pray (83 to 53 percent),” writes Brooks. “Simply belonging to a congregation—whether one attends regularly or not—makes a person 32 points more likely to give (88 to 56 percent).”
And the giving of regular religious worshippers is not limited to their own churches. According to Brooks, in 2000, religious people were “10 [percentage] points more likely than secularists to give money to nonreligious charities such as the United Way (71 to 61 percent) and 21 points more likely to volunteer for completely secular causes such as the local PTA (60 to 39 percent).” Adjusting for income and other characteristics, Brooks says, “the churchgoer will be 9 points more likely than the secularist to give to nonreligious charities, and will give $88 more to these organizations each year.”
And, as Christopher Levenick shows in his cover story in this issue, Americans of all religions (and none) have a deep respect for the work of faith-based charities. Some of the strongest philanthropic support for inner-city Catholic schools today comes from Protestants, Jews, and atheists—donors who do not share the Catholic faith but want to strengthen these urban beacons of opportunity.
“I am an atheist,” says Robert Wilson of his $22.5 million gift to the Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of New York. The contribution, he insists, “is about getting an education.”
“I’m not Catholic,” says Peter T. Grauer, who was raised Protestant and is now chairman of Bloomberg and president of the Inner-City Scholarship Fund. “But what I care about is the kids. I want to make sure they have an opportunity to get a good education.”
“Now, there’s a very simple reason why a foundation with a definite Jewish background—you might even call it a Jewish foundation—gives to Catholic schools,” says Donn Weinberg, chairman of the Baltimore-area Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. “It’s that the Catholic schools in Baltimore and across the country take all comers. They’re educating poor kids in Baltimore.”
This is a quintessentially American approach to giving. Indeed, one of the largest contributions made to a public charity in recent years was Lutheran Joan Kroc’s $1.6 billion bequest to the Salvation Army.
Private financial support for religion has been indispensable to the protection of religious freedom in America. Whether Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim, Buddhist, or from some other tradition, America’s diverse faith communities have always enjoyed the freedom to support and sustain their own religious institutions. The Philanthropy Roundtable is committed to protecting the freedom of religious givers to determine how and where to make their own charitable contributions, so long as they follow the law. We believe that Catholic foundations should be free to give exclusively to Catholic causes if that is consistent with their mission and donor intent, that donors committed to advancing Jewish institutions should have the freedom to determine whether to include Gentiles on their foundation boards, and that all kinds of religious giving should enjoy favorable tax treatment equal to that accorded other charitable contributions.
Adam Meyerson is president of The Philanthropy Roundtable.