It’s that time of year when nearly a third of all charitable giving takes place. But the spirit isn’t so generous in Maine, by some measures.
The Pine Tree State ranks 49th in the nation for the percentage of income its residents give to charity, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, a slight improvement from 2008 when the state ranked 50th. Maine, where residents in 2012 gave only 1.95 percent of their adjusted gross income to charity, outranked only its neighbor, the Granite State, where residents shared 1.74 percent.
The portion of income Maine residents shell out has shrunken 12 percent since 2006, according to the Chronicle. Giving ranges from a high of 2.92 percent in Lincoln County to 1.57 percent in Somerset County.
Is there a stinginess that’s overtaken northern New England? Not quite, according to those who depend on Mainers’ generosity at this time of year.
“People are giving and are willing to give,” Capt. Tim Clark of the Salvation Army Bangor said.
According to Clark, the Red Kettle exceeded its $114,000 goal by approximately $3,000, and the Santa’s Helper fund has raised $41,690 with five days left to hit its $50,000 goal.
The holiday season is an important time for the Salvation Army. It’s the time of year when many Mainers in Greater Bangor come asking for assistance with filling stomachs, oil tanks and Christmas stockings. It’s also a crucial time for gathering donations, as a third of the donations needed for the Salvation Army’s year-round work is collected at this time of year.
This year Clark anticipates that the Salvation Army will assist close to 550 Greater Bangor families this holiday season, a number that has climbed in recent years. Overall, Clark has found Greater Bangor to be very charitable.
Clark’s assessment of Mainers’ charitability contrasts sharply with the state’s ranking in the Chronicle. And it appears that the Chronicle’s Maine profile presents a far from complete picture.
For one, much of what Mainers give doesn’t make it into the profile because most don’t itemize charitable givings on tax returns (which is the source of the Chronicle’s data because those who itemize their deductions are the largest donors). About 31 percent of Maine taxpayers itemized their deductions on their 2011 tax returns, according to the IRS. Nationally, about 32 percent itemize.
The United Way, much like the Salvation Army, relies heavily on those individual donations that might escape notice by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. “A vast majority of revenue comes in through individual donations,” said Adam Lacher, director of community engagement at the United Way of Eastern Maine. Donations collected by the United Way support nearly 50 organizations that serve close to 55,000 Mainers in five counties.
Lacher credits Mainers’ generosity to a “pay it forward” mentality because many know what it’s like to go without. In fact, the Chronicle’s Maine profile shows Mainers who make less than $25,000 a year tend to be the most generous, giving 4.52 percent of their income to charity.
As for Maine’s overall laggard ranking, those in the philanthropy world have a few explanations.
Many of Maine’s bigger donors might not factor into the ranking because some, like the late Harold Alfond, give to in-state charities but don’t officially reside here.
Others have suggested that Maine’s low ranking in the Chronicle is partly due to the state being largely secular. A 2012 survey found that less than 30 percent of Mainers belonged to a religious denomination, one of the lowest percentages in the nation. If the Chronicle’s data only included secular charities, Maine’s ranking would likely be higher.
It’s likely no coincidence that Utah, which boasts a population that’s 69 percent devout Mormon, routinely tops the list. Utahns gave 6.56 percent of their income to charity in 2012.
While Mainers’ charitable giving might lag by the Chronicle’s standard, one asset Maine appears to be rich in is volunteers — an asset upon which groups like the Salvation Army and United Way depend heavily.
“People from Maine are really generous with their time,” Lacher said.
The Corporation for National and Community Service estimated 32.5 percent of Mainers gave time to charitable causes in 2013, with nearly 40 million hours contributed to working in the community. Nationally, Maine ranked 13th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, volunteering six hours more per capita than the national average.
What’s all this volunteerism worth? Well, the Corporation valued Mainers’ donated service at nearly $900 million. All told, Americans donated $7.7 billion of time and service.
Lacher also said youth volunteerism is high in Maine as well. According to Volunteer Maine, 44 percent of Maine teenagers donate their time and service, the highest in the nation.
Even though Mainers have a charitable disposition, both Lacher and Clark noted overall donations have been down the last few years, likely because of the recession. Another reason is the way people donate is also changing — a reality to which many nonprofits and charities are beginning to adapt.
“A lot of people want to make a donation but don’t carry cash,” Clark said.
Both the Salvation Army and United Way have launched online and mobile options for donating.
Still other seismic changes in the Greater Bangor region, such as the closure of the Verso Paper mill in Bucksport, mean that many historically large donors have dried up. “That’s $130,000 a year that’s not there anymore,” Lacher said. “So many people depend on that money.”
But the United Way and other charity groups say they’ll continue to adapt. That means “diversify[ing] how we raise money,” Lacher said.
It also means knowing what each community is able to support and setting goals accordingly. “We try to be realistic about what the community can support,” Clark said.
Christopher Burns is a digital desk editor at the Bangor Daily News.