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Conclusion: The “How” of American Generosity

In studying how Americans approach giving, we discovered that they fall into four primary types of givers with distinct habits, levels of giving, and generous practices. The most notable highlights are that Planned givers tend to outpace all other givers in their generosity participation. Habitual givers are also often very generous. Selective givers exhibit a bit of a giving plateau, rarely matching the generosity of Planned and Habitual givers. Impulsive givers tend to be the lowest givers of the four types. Atypical givers blend Impulsive and nongiver patterns, insofar as they retain a minor giving identity but have no discernible approach to their giving.

Our case studies articulate how these giving processes work in the daily lives of ordinary Americans. As both the case studies and the quantitative analyses demonstrate, giver types have distinct approaches to financial giving that explain differences in other forms of generosity. These giver types also exhibit different social status characteristics, with some of the most prominent patterns being in the interplay of college degree attainment, religious service attendance, and annual household income.

In examining the intersection of these three mutable characteristics, we illustrated a more nuanced picture of American generosity. People who have college degrees and are highly religious appear to be more likely to be Planned givers, but income does not distinguish Planned givers. Higher income and frequent religious service attendance, but not having a college degree, are linked to a higher likelihood of being a Habitual giver. Selective givers are more likely to have college degrees and moderate levels of attendance at religious services, while income level matters less. Americans who do not regularly attend religious services and have higher incomes, especially if they also have college degrees, are most likely to be Impulsive givers. Combining the results of this chapter with the findings of the previous chapters, we can see that Americans group together in their approaches to giving, and that approaches relate to giving outcomes.

One goal in identifying and investigating these approaches to giving is to enable ourselves and other scholars to more readily discuss the different kinds of American philanthropy that exist in the general public. Rather than treating all American givers as one group and comparing them only to those who do not give, this more nuanced approach allows us to better understand different shades of philanthropic giving. These analyses have numerous implications for charities, which can tailor their strategies, campaigns, and appeals according to the form of generosity they are requesting and the type of giver they hope to reach.

We do want to note that nothing in this analysis is meant to imply that one type of giver is necessarily “better” than another. Some may be more likely to give greater amounts than others or more likely to respond to certain types of fundraising strategies, but all of these givers share in common a willingness to give to charitable causes, and all should be respected as the potential giver base from whom contributions can be drawn. It is also important to reiterate that these giver types are not necessarily fixed and immutable; it is quite plausible to imagine that people change types throughout the course of their lives as their resources change. There could even be a life-course trajectory to giving approaches that may move someone from one type of giver to another depending on a change in their commitment to giving. For example, people may change their process of giving due to negative experiences with giving. Identifying the different types of givers, as we have done in this chapter, makes exploring these questions possible. We have here developed the picture of how Americans participate in a range of philanthropic behaviors, coupled with who gives and how much. In the next chapter we turn to why Americans give.

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