ST. LEO, FL – Americans are feeling a need to be charitable in 2017, although the year’s numerous natural disasters and resulting suffering has caused some individual givers to rethink where their gifts are most needed, the latest survey by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute shows (

The survey was conducted nationally November 19 to 24, 2017, Thanksgiving week, among 1,000 respondents. Results have a margin of error of + or – 3 percentage points. The scope of the national survey takes in people who saw wildfires leave communities bereft in the West, to those who pummeled by Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana, and those threatened by the  Atlantic hurricane season in the East.

The institute also conducted the same survey the same week among 500 residents in Florida, where the entire peninsula was drenched by Hurricane Irma in September. Florida also possesses a geographic and cultural view of the suffering of the islands in the Caribbean during the storm season, including the devastation Hurricane Maria inflicted on Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. The results from the Florida survey have a margin of error of + or – 4.5 percentage points.

When respondents received the Saint Leo survey and answered questions about charitable giving, results showed that on the whole, Americans are trying at least to keep pace with their patterns from the previous year. There is a slight uptick in numbers who are giving and increasing levels of giving. And smaller percentages seem to be giving less and not at all.

Charitable Donation Intentions Over Three Years

  2017 2017 2017 2016 2016 2016 2015 2015 2015
Thinking about your level of charitable giving throughout current year, would you say you will be… U.S. – % U.S. Catholics – % FL – % U.S.- % U.S. Catholics – % FL – % U.S. – % U.S. Catholics – % FL – %
Giving more to charity than last calendar year 22.1 24.7 23.4 18.8 15.5 18.8 22.2 24.3 21.7
Giving about the same to charity as last calendar year 46.2 52.2 45.2 48.2 52.7 47.4 38.8 46.6 41.5
Giving the same or more (combined) 68.3 76.9 68.6 67.0 68.2 66.2 61.0 70.9 63.2
Giving less to charity compared to last year 12.2 11.5 10.6 12.6 15.9 13.6 15.9 15.0 11.9
Have not / will not be giving to charity this year 12.1 7.5 15.0 14.2 11.9 14.6 14.1 9.2 13.0
Giving less or not giving (combined) 24.3 19.0 25.6 26.8 27.8 28.2 30.0 24.2 24.9
Unsure 7.4 4.1 5.8 6.2 4.0 5.6 9.0 4.9 11.9


“Americans are known for their philanthropy,” said Dr. Nancy Wood, director of the graduate program in human services at Saint Leo University. “Historically, giving by individuals has correlated with economic indicators, such as growth in the GDP (gross domestic product) and household income, as well as, stock market performance. With economic indicators being overall positive, it would be expected that charitable giving would be up in 2017 over 2016.”

There are also religious and ethical sources of encouragement emphasizing a need for giving in 2017, added Dr. Susan Kinsella, dean of Saint Leo University’s School of Education and Social Services. At the national level, Kinsella noted, 24.7 percent of Catholics surveyed say they are increasing their giving. “This may be due to the appeals by the Catholic Church to support those in need, especially in areas like Puerto Rico, our immigrant populations, and those affected by natural disasters,” she said.

The timing of the survey question, at the start of the Christmas holiday season—the season of giving in Christian faiths—is also a possible factor in the mindsets of much of the survey base, Kinsella noted. But Christian influence is not the only one likely at work in society, she added. There is a universal impulse toward giving documented in research, regardless of one’s ethnic or religious background, she stated.

Research-Minded Giving
The majority of respondents indicate they do at least some research before giving to a particular charity, as consumer advocates and charity experts advise. Specifically, 41.4 percent strongly agree with the statement that they research charities before donating, and almost as many somewhat agree with the statement, yielding a combined 82.7 percent claiming they get information before they give. Donors in Florida were a bit more adamant on the topic, with 49.5 percent strongly agreeing that they research before donating, and 35.4 percent somewhat agreeing, with the sum at 84.8 percent. In both geographic samples, these levels are holding steady or a bit above what donors reported in 2016.

The numbers, Kinsella said, reflect that “respondents want to target their funds to charities who directly serve those who need the services, rather than those charities with high administrative costs.”

Pulled in Many Directions
Because of the number of natural disasters over the past year, the polling institute added two questions to find out how events may be affecting donors. Respondents were asked if they strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree, or are unsure about these statements:

I have reduced my usual charitable giving in 2017 due to increased giving to help victims of unexpected natural disasters.

 Re-allocating donations? U.S. – % FL – %
Strongly agree 11.4 13.6
Somewhat agree 20.1 25.3
Agree – combined 31.5 38.9
Somewhat disagree 37.4 33.3
Strongly disagree 26.5 24.0
Disagree – combined 63.9 57.3
Unsure 4.6 3.8


The number of natural disasters and storms lately have me feeling overwhelmed in my plans for charitable giving.

Feeling overwhelmed? U.S. – % FL – %
Strongly agree 12.9 18.4
Somewhat agree 28.2 23.7
Agree – combined 41.1 42.1
Somewhat disagree 29.7 31.6
Strongly disagree 22.5 22.5
Disagree – combined 52.2 54.1
Unsure 6.7 3.8


These results make sense, given what people witnessed this year, Saint Leo faculty experts said. Shifts within some people’s personal budgets have to be expected given the needs that emerged this year. “Donor fatigue would be expected and perhaps has created a strain on charitable giving,” Wood said.  “Social media provides round-the-clock streaming of charitable causes, which may also contribute to the sense of feeling overwhelmed in plans for giving.”

And still, noted Dean Kinsella, a greater balance indicate they are not discouraged or tapped out. “Overwhelmingly,” she said, “respondents are still giving to charities. It may also be that people give to the same charities every year and despite the hardship of additional giving, people will continue to fund charities they support.”

Media contacts:
Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).     

Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).

About the Poll
METHODOLOGY: The survey was conducted November 19 through November 24, 2017 using an online survey instrument. Results were collected from 500 respondents across Florida. The poll has a +/- 4.5 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can also be found here: You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University ( is a modern Catholic teaching university that is firmly grounded in the liberal arts tradition and the timeless Benedictine wisdom that seeks balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit. The Saint Leo University of today is a private, nonprofit institution that creates hospitable learning communities wherever students want to be or need to be, whether that is a campus classroom, a web-based environment, an employer’s worksite, a military base, or an office park. Saint Leo welcomes people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourages learners of all generations. The university is committed to providing educational opportunities to the nation’s armed forces, veterans, and their families. Saint Leo is regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and the faculty and staff guide all students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

The university remains the faithful steward of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where its founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving more than 13,000 students, Saint Leo has expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintains a physical presence in seven states. The university provides highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 90,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.