Sunday, November 20, 2005

Catalogue for Philanthropy, Meet Irony

The Catalogue for Philanthropy has released its new Generosity Index, and according to the updated version (not posted at the moment), New Hampshire again ranks last. This is not a post griping about my home state's ranking--what my neighbors are doing for charity is of minimal interest to me as my family makes its giving decisions. But New England states have apparently looked for alternative measures that they claim are more fair. The Boston Foundation has released some reports to this effect.

We find the Associated Press on the case, dutifully reporting on what the principal actors have to say:

"We believe that generosity is a function of how much one gives to the ability one has to give," said Martin Cohn, a spokesman for the Catalogue for Philanthropy, a Boston-based nonprofit that publishes a directory of nonprofit organizations.
That seems like a reasonable premise, but it doesn't necessarily follow that any function of those two characteristics is a good one. This seems to be the thrust of the Boston Foundation's critique:
"If everyone in Massachusetts gave 100 times as much to charity as we do today and everything else remains the same, we wouldn't get above the bottom half of the chart," said David Trueblood, a spokesman for the foundation. "And no matter what Mississippi did, it couldn't fall below 22nd or 23rd."
This seems to be an accurate assessment, conditional on what other states are doing, at least based on my quick look at the index that is posted. But here's the fun part of the article:
Cohn said he was disappointed that the Boston Foundation chose to attack the index without understanding that its purpose is to promote discussion about philanthropy and that it never sought to hang a label on any state.
And maybe that's a true statement of Cohn's intent, but I think it's a bit ridiculous to be disappointed in an interview for an article that wound up with the title, "New Hampshire Is Named Most Miserly State." A little self-awareness on the part of the AP would be a welcome addition, too.

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Arun Khanna said...

Eyeballing the index it seems "Red States" on average are more generous than "Blue States." Given the caveats about the index this observation should be taken with a grain of salt.

Anonymous said...

i need to read more of the links you have.

in the meanwhile, i would not be too hard on new england based on anecdotal observation and discussion with a fundraiser from a non-profit.

people in california have new money. they also seem to spend a lot of time worried about plastic surgery, auto leases and other surface things. housing is expensive. charity and non-profits have to try hard to raise $s (although not Stanford)

people in new england tend to be thoughtful about donations. once they buy in to a non-profit, they are very supportive and have deep and generous pockets for some stuff.

Idaho_Spud said...

A quick glance at the top 10 states in the 'Generousity Index' looks more to me like 'lowest cost of living index'.

'Generousity Index' is (to put it mildly) a loaded term, especially when it excludes non-discretionary expenses like housing and energy - which are least expensive in the states at the top of the list.

It would be interesting to see how the list would look if we were to take such locally variable expenses into account, and then apply the red/blue paradigm.

The result might shatter some smug assumptions about who is miserly and who is generous.

elhuevon said...

That index is (as Trueblood mentioned) a crock of bull.

Ceteris paribus, if Connecticut residents gave 100% of their income to charity and Mississippi residents gave 0% to charity, then the two states would be tied for 23rd place in the so-called "Generosity Index."

A much better measure (and no more difficult to display given the supposed data sources), would be AICD/AGI. Then rank the states based on giving as a percentage of income. I have seen these types of rankings before and Utah will rank #1 b/c the overwhelming majority of their residents tithe. And even though I fundamentally disagree with what the federal government classifies as "charitable giving," at least that would be a fair measure...

Anonymous said...

The Generosity Index is a hoax. It is a hoax that has been perpetrated on the American public by media that apparently completely lack journalistic inquisitiveness. There are statistics that give the Index verisimilitude, but it is shocking that there has been practically no consideration of what the numbers actually mean. The treatment of the Generosity Index as a serious matter by the media is no less shocking than any dependence on flawed unnamed sources or forged documents. The exploitation of the Generosity Index for political purposes is even more outrageous and demonstrates a lack of either moral or journalistic integrity. Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, Andrew Sullivan, Michael Medved, Wesley Pruden, Senator Trent Lott, and Charles W. Dunn (Dean of the Robertson School of Government at Regent University) have all made absurd and unwarranted conclusions from comparing the state rankings derived from the Generosity Index and election results. Either they lack the intellectual wherewithal to realize that the Index is nonsense or they are deliberately engaging in yet another willful distortion of facts. Ms. Malkin in addition appears in her Web posting to engage in plagiarism by not acknowledging that others had presented the graphic correlation of the Index and election results previously.
What is wrong with the Index? In general states with low per capita income and lower levels of education are ranked higher than those with higher income and education level. The Index is based on a statistically suspect combination of rankings based upon state average gross income (AGI) and average itemized charitable contribution deductions (ICD). The data are obtained from the Internal Revenue Service. Some commentators have focused on the fact that only money contributions are included, whereas others have suggested that the higher cost of living in the richer states may contribute to lower levels of monetary charitable contributions. Both of these criticisms miss the point. Average deductible charitable contributions are simply NOT an accurate measure of actual monetary contributions when there are wide variations in the percentage of income-tax filers who itemize contributions. In Connecticut, for example, 40% of filers itemize, whereas in Mississippi only 20% do. This variation results from the fact that charitable contributions are not the only factor that leads to the decision to itemize. Taxpayers in wealthier states will own property with higher values and therefore higher mortgages. They are also more likely to be paying higher deductible state and local taxes (and also receiving greater public services). They are therefore far more likely to itemize their deductions. Consequently, a taxpayer in Connecticut who is only donating $1000 to charity is far more likely to itemize than is a taxpayer from Mississippi. Only those Mississippians who have made larger contributions will find it worthwhile to itemize. Small contributors will be excluded from the Mississippi average, although they are included in the Connecticut average.

Please see the rest of my analysis at

Anonymous said...

Folks.. you're making this way too complicated. It's a sham and an outright sham. Connecticut has a range of 0 to -50 whereas Mississippi has a range of 0 to 50. Even if Connecticut was #1 in giving and Mississippi was #50 in giving, they would still be tied at 0. There is no way, under the methodology (if you can consider it that) for Connecticut to do any better than TIE Mississippi, even if Connecticut residents gave 100% of their income to charity and Mississippi residents gave nothing at all.

Think about it for a second and actually play with the numbers.