Religious organizations were the second most common charitable cause supported by affluent households in the U.S. in 2020, according to a report published on Sept. 29.

The study was conducted by Bank of America and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, with more than 1,600 affluent U.S. households participating.

“Households with a net worth of $1 million or more (excluding the value of their primary home) and/or an annual household income of $200,000 or more qualified to participate in this year’s survey,” the report explained. “Average income and wealth levels of the participants in the study exceeded these threshold levels; the average income and wealth levels of study respondents was approximately $523,472 (median = $350,000) and $31.1 million (median = $2.0 million), respectively.”

Nearly half (46.9%) of respondents said they had donated to a religious organization in 2020. This is second only to the 57.1% who gave to causes focused on meeting people’s fundamental needs (food, shelter and basic necessities).

A strong majority (84.9%) of affluent households gave to secular organizations and, overall, 88.1% of affluent households gave to secular and/or religious organizations last year.

Around one-third (33.6%) of respondents volunteered with a religious organization – essentially a tie with the 33.5% who volunteered at organizations that collect and/or distribute items to meet basic needs.

Giving by affluent households has declined since 2015, with the percentage of respondents giving to secular and/or religious causes dropping 2.9 points overall from 2015 to 2020. The number of affluent households giving to secular causes dropped 3.4%, while those giving to religious causes declined 2.7%.

A majority (65.9%) of respondents said they attended religious services a few times a year or less, with 30.2% of this total saying they never attend. Of the 34.1% who attend services regularly, 6.2% do so once or twice a month, 22.9% once a week and 4.9% more than once a week.

“Personal values or beliefs, such as religious, political, or philosophical beliefs” was the third most common motivation among affluent donors, with 59.6% citing this as a factor in their philanthropy.

The top two motivations were “responding to a need” (62.9%) and “believing you can make a difference” (62.2%).

Even though giving to religious organizations was the second highest philanthropic activity of affluent households last year, the pandemic resulted in fewer affluent households “giving to charitable organizations for religious purposes or spiritual development (e.g., churches, synagogues, mosques, or TV/radio ministries).”

While most respondents (79.9%) said their giving to religious organizations stayed the same in 2020, 11.2% reported giving decreases and 9% giving increases.

Other than volunteering (22.3% decrease and 8.5% increase), no other charitable giving area / group saw a net decrease in support levels from affluent households last year.

In terms of confidence in the ability of various entities “to solve societal or global problems, now and in the future,” more than one-third (39%) of affluent households expressed “hardly any confidence” in religious institutions to do so.

By comparison, 45.7% have “only some confidence” and 15.3% have “a great deal of confidence.”

The full report is available here.

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