Who'll Pay for the Christmas Goose?

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The season of brotherly love and charity is upon us once more, when all the Scrooges outthere must be convinced to unclasp their purses and fork over the cash for Tiny Tim's Christmas goose. Though Dickens' Scrooge (before his epiphany) is a far cry from a likely donor to charity, by most measures he's got the main ingredient to make him a good prospect: a lot of dough. But as any fundraiser can tell you, it's not that simple. In fact, in our August issue ("Generosity by the Numbers," by Josh Galper, page 24), data from the United Way showed that one of the nation's wealthiest counties, Litchfield, Connecticut, was on the stingy side. Clearly, there's something more to giving than just how much money a likely donor's got.

That something may just be social capital. "Social capital builds on the Marxian notion of economic capital," says Francesca Polletta, a sociologist at Columbia University. "People's wealth comes not just from money and materials, but through social networks as well. Immigrant groups are frequently used as an example. Some groups come here with very little money, but succeed because they have a strong social network."

Social capital can be banked in churches, in volunteer organizations such as the PTA, in neighborhood groups, and in less formal social structures, such as friendship. "People embedded in a strong social network are more likely to act for the common good," says Polletta. And acting for the common good can translate into charitable giving.

Researcher Josh Galper designed a map for the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., trying to pinpoint the donor demographic, based on criteria that measures social capital as well as economic data. The study was put up on the Institute's Web site last month as a working paper.

After a review of the literature on social capital, Galper came up with a list of variables associated with social capital:

* Total establishments with 0 to 19 employees per capita. (See "How to Build Strong Home Towns," February 1997, page 42.)

* Monday-through-Friday newspaper readership rate. (See "Read All About It," November 1998, page 46.) Communities in which newspaper readership rates are high also have a higher level of volunteerism.

* Annual payroll of membership organizations per capita, including churches, political, and civic associations. This variable uses the financial strength of community-supported civic organizations as an indication of local civic involvement.

* Percent of the population with education above the associate-degree level.

* Percent of the population aged 45 and above. Some studies show that adults is this age group are more likely to volunteer and be active within their communities.

The economic criteria were per capita wages and salaries by place of residence from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Combining the two sets of criteria, Galper used cluster analysis to rate each county in the United States on a scale of 1 to 5 in terms of the likelihood of its inhabitants to give to charity, with 1 being the most likely, and 5 the least.

Counties in which both economic and social capital are high were rated highest. But there are some counties where per capita income is not terribly high, yet they rate high in the likelihood to give category. A pink swath in the near Midwest that runs through northern Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota is a case in point. "One theory for why these areas are high in social capital," says Julian Wolpert, a professor at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, "is that they were settled by Germans and Swedes coming from a social democratic tradition in Europe. The areas are also homogeneous with few minorities, and people may be more generous when they're giving to people like themselves."

Of the $143.46 billion that was donated to charity in 1997, according to data from Giving USA, a publication of the American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel, individuals gave 76.2 percent of the total; corporations, 5.7 percent; foundations, 9.3 percent; and 8.8 percent was bequeathed. Religion took the lion's share with 47 percent; education, 13.5 percent; health, 8.8 percent; human services, 7.9 percent; gifts to foundations, 7 percent; arts, culture, and humanities, 6.7 percent; and the rest was distributed between international affairs, environment, wildlife and social/community categories.

"This is an interesting first step in offering scholars a new type of analysis in the field of charitable giving," says Linda Lampkin, director of the Urban Institute's National Center for Charitable Statistics. "The variables may need to be tweaked, and the findings empirically tested before it is used by fundraisers."

For a copy of the study, "An Exploration of Social Capital, Giving And Volunteering at the United States County Level," call the Center of Non-Profits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute at (202) 261-5790. For more information on the study, call Linda Lampkin at (202) 261-5806. Or visit the Institute's Web site: http://www.urban.org, or e-mail directly to [email protected]

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