Tragedy has always inspired Americans to give their support to those in need. The devastating tornado that hit the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore earlier this month is just the latest example of how natural disasters and other catastrophic events draw in charitable support from people seeking to lend their aid, with tonight's benefit concert and telethon to broadcast on NBC adding to the influx of donations that charities have already seen in the past week.
Although Americans across the nation are generous in their giving, it's still interesting to see which states see the most charitable activity. One simple way of looking at generosity would be simply to look at total giving, as a study last year from The Chronicle of Philanthropy did in its analysis of 2008 IRS data. But another way to look at the question is to examine the percentage of tax returns filed in each state that claim a deduction for charitable giving, and the Tax Foundation looked at that question in its analysis of more-recent 2011 IRS data. Let's take a look at the six states that had the highest percentages of tax returns claiming charitable deductions, also including information from The Chronicle of Philanthropy's study about total and median contribution levels to see how they compare.
In Virginia, 32.5% of all tax returns included a charitable deduction. The state made total contributions of $4.2 billion, amounting to a median amount of $2,790 per taxpayer. One big loss for the state's charitable community will come from the winding-down of the Freddie Mac Foundation, which expects to distribute all of its assets by the end of 2014 in connection with the conservatorship of Freddie Mac (NASDAQOTH:FMCC).
Among Minnesotans, 32.7% claimed a charitable deduction on their tax returns. With median contributions of $2,213 per taxpayer, Minnesota gave a total of $2.6 billion. Corporate giving in Minnesota is also a high priority, with foundations associated with 3M and US Bancorp (NYSE:USB) among many with annual giving amounts of $10 million or more. US Bancorp recently started accepting donations at its ATMs for Oklahoma-directed efforts of the American Red Cross.
Utah boasted the fourth-highest percentage of returns, including a deduction for charitable giving at 33.1%. The Chronicle of Philanthropy found that Utah residents boasted the highest percentage of discretionary income devoted to charitable giving, at 10.6%. Median contributions of $5,255 per taxpayer amounted to total giving of $2.4 billion.
Connecticut weighed in with 35.9% of taxpayers claiming a charitable deduction. Total contributions of $2.3 billion reflected relatively low median contributions of $1,916 per taxpayer. With General Electric (NYSE:GE) having its corporate headquarters within the state, the GE Foundation represents a huge influence on philanthropic activity both inside Connecticut and across the nation. GE and the foundation also stepped up with donations of medical equipment to one Oklahoma City-area hospital to help handle the influx of patients injured in the Oklahoma tornado.
2. New Jersey
Among New Jersey taxpayers, 36% deducted charitable donations in 2011. State residents gave $4.5 billion, with the typical taxpayer contributing $2,181. Among corporate donors, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, named after one of the founders of Johnson & Johnson, and Merck's (NYSE:MRK) foundation both have an important impact on the state's charitable activity. Merck gave out almost $1.3 billion in cash and products during 2011 in efforts to get its medications into the hands of those who otherwise couldn't afford them.
Maryland topped the list with a whopping 40.1% of all tax returns including a deduction for charitable donations. Median contributions of $2,969 led to total giving of $3.9 billion. Numerous private foundations help in the charitable efforts of the state, with a broad-based set of organizations providing support for a large number of different initiatives and charitable missions.
One key to keep in mind
It's reasonable to argue that this measure of generosity among states is unfair because of the nature of the charitable deduction. In order to deduct donations to charity, you have to itemize your deductions; those who take the standard deduction instead won't get included in these percentages even if they made charitable gifts. Indeed, among these states, only Virginia managed to crack the top 10 on The Chronicle of Philanthropy's overall list. Yet many of the states on this list have relatively high state income and property taxes, which are also deductible items and make it more likely that taxpayers will itemize deductions rather than taking the standard deduction.
Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool recommends 3M and Johnson & Johnson. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Electric and Johnson & Johnson. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.