The variability of individual charitable giving in the US

  • Gerald Auten
  • Gabriel Rudney


Using five-year panel data, this study examines the various dimensions of the variability of individual charitable contributions at all income levels: the variation in the generosity of individuals and the variability of the individuals' giving over a five-year period. The study finds considerable variability of both kinds. One finding is that the variability of generosity is substantially greater at the higher income levels. Another finding is that variability is substantially less pronounced by observing a five-year period of an individual's generosity than by observing annual behaviour. One consequence is that a relatively small proportion of donors account for a large proportion of total giving. The popular reputation of the wealthy for generosity is actually due to the exceptional generosity of a minority rather than widespread generosity among the wealthy. Differences in generosity and variability of giving over time are both more pronounced among high-income donors. Results of the study have implications for research on charitable giving, for predicting the effects of tax policy changes on giving, and for fund-raising.


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Copyright information

© Charities Aid Foundation 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gerald Auten
    • 1
  • Gabriel Rudney
    • 2
  1. 1.US Treasury DepartmentBowling Green State University and Office of Tax AnalysisUSA
  2. 2.Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Program on Nonprofit OrganisationsYale UniversityUSA

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