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Harris Polls: Americans Donating Less, Volunteering More

Submitted by on November 9, 2010 – 12:01 pm

Last week, Harris Polls published their most recent survey of American donations and volunteer work. They surveyed 2,620 adults across the country and asked questions about what causes are most important to them personally, their giving habits, and how many organizations they support. We have put together some of the data from the survey into pie charts so our readers can have a better understanding of what Americans care about and where they are giving their money.

Americans top three priorities are education, youth/families, and medical research. The rest of the categories with the exception of "Not at all sure" did not even break the double digits.

In my opinion, I think that the top three categories are the most important because they affect Americans directly. Education has been in the news quite a bit with Waiting for Superman, and parents want to support something that will help their kids. Youth and families also make the list because Americans can imagine themselves as parents or children in need, especially in today's economy.

I think medical research makes the top three because unlike human rights or disaster relief, medical research has a fairly straight-forward mission. Science feels secure whereas disaster relief gets complicated very quickly.

When survey subjects were asked which causes they cared about the most personally, they kept youth/families, medical research, and education in the top three. The interesting part is how the categories switched around in the top three spots. Youth/families moved up to the top spot, and education lost out to medical research.

I wasn't surprised that youth/families moved up, so I'll move onto education flipping with medical research. I think medical research won out for people personally because of advertising campaigns by cancer-awareness groups. Donors are donating to research in honor of a friend or a family member, and at recent breast cancer awareness races, people say that they are running for a sister/mother/friend. Medical research has become personal.

From August 2008 to September 2010, there have been changes in how much people donate and how many organizations they support. More people are giving smaller amounts from 28 percent in 2008 to 31 percent in 2010. An increased number are not donating at all from 7 percent in 2008 to 12 percent in 2010. On the upside, there was a drop in people who said that they are volunteering less from 13 percent in 2008 to 4 percent in 2010.

Finally, let's take a look at how people respond when they read an NGO's blog or read about a cause through Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Most often, people tell friends or family about the organization or cause, followed by contacting an elected official and making a financial contribution to the organization. With the bad economy, it isn't surprising that the top two actions didn't cost anything. Going further down, 21 percent of subjects said that they would volunteer for the organization, more than 1 in 5. Even though donating money lost out to conversation and contacting elected officials, 31 percent of people said they would donate, 23 percent would donate to a cause the organization supports, and 23 percent would attend a sponsored event like a dinner or silent auction.

Overall, it is sad to see that Americans are donating less and to fewer organizations, but there are some positive signs from the Harris Poll. Volunteering is up, and people are finding ways to spread awareness and cause change without spending more money. Hopefully as the economy improves, Americans will start giving more again and continue volunteering and petitioning their elected officials.

To read the full survey, go to http://www.harrisinteractive.com/NewsRoom/HarrisPolls/tabid/447/mid/1508/articleId/611/ctl/ReadCustom%20Default/Default.aspx, and tell us what you think of the Harris Poll. Are you donating less this year? How is the economy affecting your donating and volunteering habits? Comment below!

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