Because of the country’s political climate, people in the United States are discovering that voluntary service and charitable donations go hand in hand with being a Mormon (a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called LDS or Latter-day Saint). As the story of the private life of presidential candidate Mitt Romney has unfolded, so has his personal commitment to both causes.

Now, two independent studies confirm that members of the Church of Jesus Christ not only “talk the talk;” they actually spend the greatest amount of time and money bolstering the LDS Church and their community, despite being only about 2% of the national population. One study reveals that Utah, which is 60% Mormon, is the most generous state, while the other study indicates that Mormons donate “significantly” more time and money than the average American.

The study, How America Gives, was conducted by The Chronicle of Philanthropy. It found that states that have the most religious population give more than those who are less religious. Utah was the most generous state, followed by Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina. The least generous states was New Hampshire, followed by Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

After examining $135.8 billion in donations listed in the 2008 tax returns, the study found that Americans donated an average of 4.6% of their discretionary income. The IRS discloses total amounts donated, but to protect privacy, it does not provide data about the specific charities people supported. In the LDS population, median donations for those who earned $50,000 and over were $2,564.

The Chronicle also used data from the U.S. Census to examine demographic trends, such as age, educational attainment, and race and ethnicity and The Urban Institute supplied data to determine the number of charities per 1,000 residents. The data showed a direct correlation between charitable giving and religion.

The Mormon tradition of tithing is a primary reason residents of this state well outpace those in every other place in America. The typical household claimed charitable contributions totaling 10.6 percent of discretionary income. That’s nearly 3.5 percentage points ahead of the number for its nearest rival. Utah is also the hands-down winner when it comes to the rate of volunteering. Forty-five percent of its residents volunteered in 2008. (Nebraska, at 40 percent, ranked No. 2.)

The second study focused on charitable donations and volunteerism of 2,664 active Latter-day Saints in the United States. Professor Ram Cnaan, MSW, PhD, and Daniel W. Curtis from the University of Pennsylvania joined with Van Evans from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis to conduct the first such study of LDS wards (congregations) by an institution not affiliated with the Mormon Church. Funding was provided by the University of Pennsylvania and authorized by Mormon Church headquarters.

Prior to the study, scholars knew that Utah had the highest rate of volunteerism per capita in the nation. What was unknown was whether this statistic held true for Mormons in areas that are not predominantly LDS. To find out, the researchers sampled wards (congregations) in four time zones, including Southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Michigan, California and Utah.

As it turned out, geography made no difference in the overall volunteer hours and there were few differences “across gender, education, income and location.” Including church callings, church- going LDS volunteers gave an average of 427.9 hours of service annually, which is equivalent to 8.2 hours weekly, or 35.6 hours monthly. Of those hours, about 151.9 hours benefited welfare or humanitarian aid and community service such as Boy Scouts of America. The average American volunteer provides about four hours of work a month.

The study indicated that a volunteer hour is worth $21.36. Keeping this in mind, active members of the Mormon Church annually contribute a value of $9,140.

The study also took a look at charitable donations. It stated:

“Latter-day Saints are expected to tithe. There is probably no other religious group in which tithing is taken so seriously as in the LDS Church. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (2011) reported that ‘“Nearly four-in-five Mormons say they pay tithing (79%).”’ Given that our study was conducted among active Latter-day Saints that attended a ward, we found a slightly higher rate of full-tithers. We found that 88.8% of respondents indicated that they are full tithe payers, meaning they give 10% of their annual income to the LDS Church. An additional 5.9% indicate that they tithe, but do not give the full 10% of their income.

This high level of tithing stands in sharp contrast to what other religious groups are experiencing. The Barna Group (2011) reported that ‘“Currently, the national tithing rate is down to 4% of the adult population. This is slightly below the levels of the last 10 years and significantly lower than last year’s rate (7%).”’ Regardless if it is 4% or 7%, these estimates are dwarfed in comparison to 88.8% of Latter-day Saints.”

The study also found that 48.3% of the LDS respondents donated money to social causes outside the Church at an average rate of $1,171 annually.

The findings of the study were impressive to the researchers as evidenced in the concluding remarks of the study:

Overall we found that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the most prosocial members of American society. Regardless of where they live, they are very generous with their time and money. Through a theology of obedience and sacrifice and a strong commitment to tithing and service, Latter-day Saints are model citizens.

By Jan

Additional Resources:

Mormon Giving

Basic Mormon Beliefs and Real Mormons

About Keith L. Brown
Keith L. Brown is a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, having been born and raised Baptist. He was studying to be a Baptist minister at the time of his conversion to the LDS faith. He was baptized on 10 March 1998 in Reykjavik, Iceland while serving on active duty in the United States Navy in Keflavic, Iceland. He currently serves as the First Assistant to the High Priest Group for the Annapolis, Maryland Ward. He is a 30-year honorably retired United States Navy Veteran.

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