New analysis from the Chronicle of Philanthropy shows Maine residents are giving less money to charity, with a 12 percent drop between 2006 and 2012. The Pine Tree State, with 1.95 percent of adjusted gross income given to charity in 2012, edges out only New Hampshire, where the giving rate was just 1.74 percent.
To contrast, the figures show residents of perennial charity powerhouse Utah gave 6.56 percent of their adjusted gross income to charity in 2012.
On average, Americans give about 3 percent of their income to charity. The analysis also shows wealthy Americans are giving a smaller portion of their income to charity and that poor and middle-class people gave more.
The numbers are based on IRS data, which show the charitable deductions reported on income tax forms.
“What history has shown is that the New England states tend to be toward the bottom of the list compared to other states in the nation,” Barbara Edmond, president of the Maine Philanthropy Center, said. “It’s not a good trend. We came out 50th on this survey. We were 47th last year. We always float around at the bottom.”
Maine’s median adjusted gross income in 2012 was $77,571, according to data used by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. The most generous Mainers that year were those who made up to $25,000, giving to charities at a rate of 4.52 percent. Surprisingly, tax returns show the least generous Mainers were those who earned up to $200,000, giving to charity at a rate of 1.72 percent. The top earners gave at a rate of 2.07 percent, making an average contribution of $10,255.
Edmond and other experts say there are many factors that could explain Maine’s poor charitable showing. One is that 70 percent of Maine taxpayers do not itemize their taxes and do not receive a tax deduction for their charitable contributions. Charitable giving among this group would not show up on the IRS data used by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, according to Scott Schnapp, executive director of the Maine Association of Nonprofits.
“It’s difficult to accurately quantify generosity in this way,” he wrote in an email sent to the BDN on Friday.
In addition, Maine’s median income lags behind the U.S. and the rest of New England, resulting in lower average charitable givings per itemizer, and it’s possible Maine’s recovery from the Great Recession may have been slower than in other New England states, Schnapp wrote.
Pressure on the local economy can mean hardship for charitable agencies, according to Adam Lacher of the United Way of Eastern Maine, a nonprofit that raises $2 million annually to improve the lives of children, families and seniors in eastern Maine. He said announcements in the last two months that the L.L. Bean Bangor call center and the Verso paper mill in Bucksport will be closing are bad news for the United Way. Both businesses are what he called “top 10” donors for the agency, with employees pledging a total of $130,000 annually to United Way. In fact, Verso employees rank at the top of numbers for loyal workplace donors who have given 10 years or more to the United Way.
“When we lose two businesses like that, it’s a blow,” Lacher said. “The United Way has definitely seen a downward trend in giving in the last 10 years. … We’re going to have to broaden the base and focus on much smaller business and organizations, school districts, municipalities.”
Lacher did say that while charitable giving in Maine has been declining, there are other bright spots for agencies such as his. One is that Maine youth are eager to help others, with 16- to 18-year-olds here second only to Utah for their high volunteering rate, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
“If we don’t have as much money to give, at least we can be raising volunteers,” Lacher said.
Another way Mainers seem to be very generous is in bequests given to charitable organizations, according to Edmond. Last year, Maine ranked third in the nation in percentage of estates larger than $3.5 million that included charitable contributions.
“We don’t have huge numbers of those estates,” she said. “Of those we have, many, many of them have charitable bequests.”
Meredith Jones of the Maine Community Foundation said the state’s low percentage of charitable giving “is a conundrum,” but she sees through her work how generous Mainers can be.
“I think philanthropy comes in all shapes and sizes,” she said.
She recalled the story of a Portland parking lot attendant and his wife. They received a sizeable financial settlement after the death of their child. Instead of spending the money on an elevated lifestyle, the couple decided to establish a fund through the Maine Community Foundation to support groups working on problems related to mental health.
“If that’s not philanthropy, I don’t know what is,” Jones said. “Neighbors helping neighbors. That’s what makes the state so special.”