UI nonprofit expert says Iowans are generous with volunteer time, but not money

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A recent national study that shows Iowans ranking low in the amount of money they donate to nonprofit organizations was not surprising to a University of Iowa analyst who works closely with the state’s charitable organizations.

Richard Koontz
Richard Koontz

“Iowans tend to give lots of volunteer time to help nonprofit organizations, but not much money,” says Richard Koontz, director of the Larned A. Waterman Iowa Nonprofit Resource Center (INRC).

The study, released Monday by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, surveyed charitable giving across the United States and ranked Iowa in the bottom half of all states. Iowans donate about 3.9 percent of their discretionary income to charity, or about $1 billion a year, the study found.

But Koontz says the Chronicle study also did not include volunteer hours, a form of charitable giving in which Iowans typically rank high. In fact, he cited a study released in 2009 by the Corporation for National and Community Service found Iowa to be one of the highest ranking states for volunteerism, with 39 percent of Iowans volunteering more than 99 million hours of service a year. The study estimated that work to have an economic value of $1.8 billion.

Koontz says the study’s methodology may have also missed contributions from Iowans because the figures were derived from income tax filings where people itemize deductions, so that people who donate money but don’t itemize their 1040s were not counted. He says giving statistics show that the organizations receiving most donations are churches, and many people don’t itemize their church donations.

He says the study only looked at taxpayers with incomes of $50,000 or more. Since the median individual income in Iowa is only $38,000, it’s possible many charitable contributions were not included in the study.

Still, Koontz says Iowa’s high volunteerism/low giving trend is unusual because in most places, where giving is high, so is volunteerism. He says one of the INRC’s goals in the coming years is to find out why this disparity exists and develop ways to encourage Iowans to provide more financial help to their nonprofit organizations because they play such a significant role in the state’s economy and civic infrastructure. An INRC study released in 2010 showed charitable nonprofit organizations employed nearly 9 percent of Iowa’s workers, who earned 8 percent of the state’s wages.

The report also found that nonprofit charitable organizations are the fifth largest industry group in the state in terms of number of workers, behind only trade, government, manufacturing and education/health services.

“Charitable nonprofit organizations are a vital element in maintaining Iowa’s quality of life, and this study shows they make up a significant sector of our economy, as well,” says Koontz. “It’s important for the state’s political and economic development leaders to know how important nonprofit organizations are to the Iowa economy and take that into account during their planning.”

The Larned A. Waterman Iowa Nonprofit Resource Center uses resources of the UI College of Law and Tippie College of Business to research and educate about Iowa’s charitable nonprofit organizations in collaboration with other Iowa educational and charitable nonprofit organizations.