‘Francis Effect’ Prompts Increased Contributions

Americans said they increased their donations to charity in 2015, according to a new survey conducted by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute. And Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States may have influenced their generosity.

While 14.1 percent surveyed said they do not donate to charities and 15.9 percent indicated they would give less in 2015 than in 2014, 61 percent said they are giving more or the same this year. And 24.3 percent of Catholics surveyed said they will donate more to charity.

Did the so-called “Francis Effect,” based on the pope’s visit in September 2015, prompt increased giving? In fact, 14.9 percent said they were motivated to give the same or more by Pope Francis. The pope’s popularity remained high, as 70 percent of those polled said they had a very or somewhat favorable opinion of the pope. In a September Saint Leo poll, favorable opinion of Pope Francis was 75.8 percent. That poll was timed to coincide with the pope’s visit to the United States. His popularity dipped in Saint Leo’s October poll with 66.4 percent saying they had a favorable opinion, but increased with the December poll.

“Clearly, the pope had the most influence on Catholics,” said Dr. Marc Pugliese, Saint Leo University assistant professor of religion and theology in Virginia. “And Catholics already give; it is natural to their religion. And they were most influenced by the pope.”

More than 1,000 people were surveyed online from November 29 through December 3, 2015. The poll has a plus or minus 3 percent margin of error. Within that group, the answers were sorted by specific religious groups with non-Catholic Americans as well.

In the overall poll, respondents indicated whether Pope Francis’ encouragement of Americans to do more for the environment, refugees, immigrants, charities, and those in need prompted them to donate more or give the same.

The results showed that many national respondents were inspired by Pope Francis and will donate:

  • To environmental groups – 13 percent will give or give more
  • To own place of worship – 12.8 percent will give or give more
  • To charities (in general) – 14.9 percent will give or give more
  • To refugee/immigrant causes – 9.9 percent will give or give more
  • To “Right to Life” organizations – 12.2 percent will give or give more
  • To Human Rights Groups – 13.1 percent will give or give more

Among U.S. Catholics polled, whom Pugliese said are influenced by their religion to act charitably, giving to specific causes was even greater:

  • To environmental groups – 21.4 percent will give or give more
  • To own place of worship – 19.4 percent will give or give more
  • To charities (in general) – 23.3 percent will give or give more
  • To refugee/immigrant causes – 15.0 percent will give or give more
  • To “Right to Life” organizations – 17.5 percent will give or give more
  • To Human Rights groups – 22.3 percent will give or give more

“People feel compelled to do something,” said Dr. Nancy Wood, Saint Leo University associate chair of human services, “whether that is donating money or donating time and volunteering.”

Giving back to the community unites Americans, Wood said. “It’s helping my neighborhood out, getting back to the traditional ‘it takes a village,’ ˮ she said.

The pope’s message is resonating with non-Catholics as well, Wood said. “It translates into helping others [among those of other religions or no organized religion].”

The Francis Effect definitely is in play in relation to charitable giving, agreed Dr. Susan Kinsella, department chair of human services at Saint Leo University. “It is interesting that 70.9 percent of Catholics said they would give more or the same,” Kinsella said.

Catholics also were prompted to give to key areas Pope Francis addressed during his visit to the United States and in his encyclical on the environment, which was released in June.

The national poll showed that Catholics will give the same or more to environmental groups/causes, charities, and human rights groups—all causes addressed by Pope Francis.

In Florida, the Saint Leo poll showed 63.2 percent of 531 respondents said they would give the same or more to charity in 2015. An improved economy in the state is helping some to give, Kinsella said. “This is the one area, that if you have a little extra money, you’re going to give it to charities,” Kinsella added.

She said charitable organizations also are doing a better job of making their needs known to the public. Wood echoed those thoughts and said social media might be playing a role in increased donations. “There’s always an issue out there,” she said, or post on the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

ABOUT THE POLL: The poll was conducted by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu). Polling by the institute is conducted on a regular basis and may also include spontaneous polling on occurring events. In Florida, 531 adults were polled, approximately proportional to the state population contribution. Likely voters in Florida were identified within that overall sample. Simultaneously, the institute also sampled opinions of another 1,007 adults nationwide, approximately proportional to state population contribution. The survey was conducted November 29 to December 3, 2015. All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument. The national poll has a +/- 3.0 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis.

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University (www.saintleo.edu) is a regionally accredited, liberal-arts-based institution known for an inclusive Catholic heritage, enduring values, and capacity for innovation. The school was chartered in 1889 by Catholic Benedictine monks in rural Pasco County, FL, making Saint Leo the first Catholic college in the state. Saint Leo provides access to education to people of all faiths, emphasizing the Benedictine philosophy of balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit.

The university welcomes learners from all generations and backgrounds, from civilian occupations and the armed forces, and from across the country and more than 60 nations around the world. Saint Leo’s nearly 16,000 undergraduate and graduate students may elect to study at the beautiful University Campus in Florida, at more than 40 teaching locations in seven states, or online from any location. The university’s degree programs range from the associate to the doctorate. Through these rich offerings, Saint Leo develops principled leaders for a challenging world.

Saint Leo University boasts nearly 80,000 alumni in all 50 states, Washington, DC, five U.S. territories, and 72 countries.

Media Contacts: Mary McCoy, staff writer, at mary.mccoy02@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-7118 / (813) 610-8416.