Extreme Generosity: What motivates people in your area?

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Extreme Generosity
A Chronicle of Philanthropy interactive map for exploring charitable giving across the US

HOW DOES YOUR PART OF THE U.S. STACK UP ON GIVING? The Chronicle of Philanthropy provides this fascinating interactive map that shows visitors local patterns of contributions. CLICK anywhere on this map, above, to jump to the Chronicle’s interactive site.

This week we’ve examined extreme generosity—over-the-top acts of giving to others. We’ve considered the Old Newsboys’ Goodfellows Fund, anonymous giving, and giving the gift of a kidney to save a stranger’s life. When we consider these acts, the question of motive arises, as astute OurValues.org reader Britt said in a comment.

So, today, we end the week with the question of motive: Why give?

This question haunts philosophers, social scientists, and evolutionary biologists. For some, the answer is simple: self-benefit hides at the bottom of every seemingly selfless and generous act. Wealthy donors who get their names on the institutions they endow get prestige, recognition, and esteem. Anonymous donors don’t get reputational benefits, but as Britt pointed out, the degree of sacrifice also matters. A donation may be enormous in absolute terms, but not large enough to really be felt by a rich donor.

In fact, middle-class Americans are more generous than rich Americans, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy: “Middle-class Americans give a far bigger share of their discretionary incomes to charities that do the rich.” Rich Americans who live in communities with other rich Americans are the stingiest.

Religion makes a big difference. People who live in deeply religious regions of the country tend to give more to charity. Utah ranks #1 among all states for the percent of discretionary income residents give to charity. Idaho, another state with numerous members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is in the top nine. All the other states in the top nine are in the Deep South.

Of course, many other factors matter. In addition to religion, tax breaks, politics, and even where you live factors in. For example, residents of Red States give a higher percentage of their discretionary income to charity, compared to residents of Blue States. New Hampshire is the Blue state with the lowest percentage.

Is there such a thing as truly selfless giving?

Is self-benefit the motive behind all giving?

Or, are there altruistic reasons?

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