Fully 80% of all Americans have made a contribution to a political, religious, or charitable organization in the past year, with religious and charitable giving being particularly widespread. Within the last twelve months, six in ten Americans (59%) contributed money, property or other items to a church, synagogue, mosque or other place of worship while two-thirds (67%) contributed to a charity or non-profit organization other than their place of worship.
Compared to political donations, donations to non-profit and charitable organizations (excluding places of worship) are far more likely to take place offline. Among those who contributed to a non-profit or charitable organization in the past year, just 12% did so online (In comparison, 30% of political donors gave money online.) Still, because there are a large number of charitable donors within the population, this means that fully 11% of internet users (representing 9% of all adults) went online to donate money to a non-profit or charitable organization in the past year.
While much was made in this election cycle of the phenomenon of the “small online donor,” online and offline political contributors in our survey were equally likely to have contributed small amounts of money to a political party or candidate or any other political organization or cause. Among those who made at least one political contribution online, 35% contributed a total of $50 or less while 26% contributed between $50 and $100. This is nearly identical to the rates for those who made an offline political donation: within this group, 35% donated less than $50, and 27% donated between $50 and $100.
Although online and offline political donors do not differ significantly at the low end of the contribution scale, larger political contributions are confined primarily to the offline world. Among political donors who gave money online, just 3% said they had contributed more than $500 online in the past year. By contrast, 8% of those who had donated money to a candidate or campaign offline said they had contributed in excess of $500 in the preceding year.
This tendency for large political donations to occur offline is especially interesting when compared to donations to non-profit institutions or charitable causes. Those who make charitable donations are less likely one the whole to make online donations than are political donors. Nevertheless, in contrast to political donors, who are less likely to make a large contribution if they are contributing on the internet, charitable contributors are equally likely to make large contributions regardless of whether they are donating online or offline. Among those who made charitable donations online about one in six (17%) contributed more than $500, and 12% contributed more than $1000. For offline charitable donors, the analogous figures are nearly identical—18% of offline charitable donors contributed more than $500 and 10% contributed in excess of $1000. For whatever reason, the tendency of political donors to make large contributions offline is not apparent when it comes to charitable giving.