Is our state a Scrooge?
By Kevin O'Connor
Staff Writer | December 06,2009
Photo by Albert J. Marro
A Salvation Army bell-ringer in Rutland.
Vermont charitable donations are 25 percent below the national average, making the state one of the 10 stingiest in the country, a new report says.
Vermonters gave an average of $3,445 to charity in 2007 — more than $1,000 less than the U.S. average of $4,623, according to the "Giving in Vermont: A Case for Growing Philanthropy" study just released by the Vermont Community Foundation.
The report says that residents' ability to give is hampered by incomes that are usually lower than those of urban counterparts and a cost of living that "consistently exceeds" national numbers.
And in a footnote of consolation, it adds that Vermont ranks ninth in the nation for volunteerism, with some 35 percent of residents annually investing 20.6 million hours (a $416.2 million value) into charitable efforts.
"The data is generally surprising because Vermont is such an engaged state," said Stuart Comstock-Gay, the foundation's president. "But we're not pointing a finger — it's just useful to know to take appropriate action."
The foundation describes its function as helping to build and manage charitable funds to improve the quality of life in Vermont.
Residents' financial frugality is a challenge, the report says, because Vermont lacks a large base of major corporate benefactors and ranks 48th in the country for in-state foundation assets and per-capita grants.
Although Vermonters donated more than $260 million to charity in 2007, local and state nonprofits would have reaped $88 million more if residents gave at the national average.
"Because individual giving represents a large portion of total monetary contributions," the report says, "even a small lag results in a significant decline in potential support for communities."
The Vermont Community Foundation is releasing the report on the Web site www.understandingvt.org.
"Many of Vermont's signature experiences owe at least part of their existence to philanthropy," the report says. "For example, gifts to land trusts help conserve forests and family farms vital to the state's identity and economy. Contributions to arts and culture groups enliven our towns and preserve Vermont's heritage."
The report adds that every dollar given to a nonprofit generates an average of $8.58 in economic return.
"Philanthropic gifts not only provide direct benefits for the causes to which they are given, but are also linked to the generation of jobs, income, and tax revenue in the communities where this money is invested."
Comstock-Gay hopes the report will spur action.
"Just getting people to talk about giving is a good thing," the foundation president said. "Those without are without even more these days. We all need to band together and help each other out."