• #Giving Tuesday Holiday Ahead on November 27
  • About Four in 10 Want to Donate Similar Levels as in 2017
  • New Tax Law May Still Have Implications

ST. LEO, FL – A new survey of Americans by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu) suggests some households are changing how much they donate to their usual lists of worthy charities this year. More than one-third of those polled say they wanted to direct more of their giving in 2018 to victims of natural disasters. Political fundraising for the midterm elections influenced the charitable decisions of about one in five, as well.

The survey was conducted online October 11 through October 17, 2018, among 1,167 adults nationwide. The margin of error for results reflecting the entire response base is plus or minus 3.0 percentage points.

The first question in the survey regarding charitable giving asks people to consider the sum of their donations throughout the year 2018, and how the amount compares to the prior year. Results are shown in the table below, compared side-by-side with the results collected in 2017 in response to the same question. In addition to the overall population, the table shows result for the survey’s sub-sample of 242 Catholics, who accounted for 20.7 percent of the survey respondents. As Saint Leo University was founded on Catholic Benedictine values, the polling institute regularly tracks public opinions on matters of interest to Catholics and includes in national samples a proportion of self-described Catholics mirroring the actual U.S. population.

Overall Giving Patterns

Possibleanswers (just one choice allowed) Giving more than in the previous year Giving about the same as in the previous year Giving less than in the previous year Have not given/will not be giving Unsure
U.S. total 2018 2017 2018 2017 2018 2017 2018 2017 2018 2017
18.1% 22.1% 44.2% 46.2% 12.9% 12.2% 11.4% 12.1% 13.4% 7.4%
U.S. Catholics 23.6% 24.7% 44.2% 52.2% 14% 11.5% 8.3% 7.5% 9.9% 4.1%

As indicated, the most frequently cited response collected in 2018 as well as 2017 was that people planned to give about the same as the prior year.

Disasters and Giving Budgets

In 2017, the polling institute added two new questions about charitable giving in response to destruction caused by multiple natural disasters. In 2017, there were wildfires in the West destroying communities, and well as hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, leaving wind damage and flooding in wide swaths in the United States and territories alone, not to mention internationally. In 2018, fires and hurricanes continued domestically. Hurricane Michael, in fact, hit the Southeast just before the Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey was fielded.

So both years, respondents were asked if they strongly agreed, somewhat agreed, somewhat disagreed, or strongly disagreed the disasters were affecting them in two particular ways.

Test statements 2018 U.S. survey base 2017 U.S. survey base
I have reduced my charitable giving in 2018 due to increased giving to help victims of unexpected natural disasters. 35.2% combined agree

56.8% combined disagree

  • 12% strongly agree
  • 23.2% somewhat agree
  • 31.4% somewhat disagree
  • 25.4% strongly disagree


31.5% combined agree

63.9% combined disagree

  • 11.4% strongly agree
  • 20.1% somewhat agree
  • 37.4% somewhat disagree
  • 26.5% strongly disagree


The number of natural disasters and storms lately have me feeling overwhelmed in my plans for charitable giving. 39.2% combined agree

53.3% combined disagree

  • 13.6% strongly agree
  • 25.6% somewhat agree
  • 29.7% somewhat disagree
  • 23.6% strongly disagree


41.1% combined agree

52.2% combined disagree

  • 12.9% strongly agree
  • 28.2% somewhat agree
  • 29.7% somewhat disagree
  • 22.5% strongly disagree


Dr. Nancy Wood, an associate professor of human services in Saint Leo University’s College of Education and Social Services commented that “it would be expected that some individuals re-allocated donations to disaster relief” this year.  Donors might reasonably prioritize shelter and health care for disaster victims over causes they may support at other times that now seem less critical. Those categories might range from museums to arts or recreation. “Donors care about where their monies are being allocated and what the impact from the donation will be,” Wood said, noting that again this year, as in prior years, more than 80 percent of respondents reported that they research charities before donating.

Politics and Midterm Elections

The polling institute wanted to know if the active political campaign season and related fundraising was having any effect on Americans’ 2018 household-giving habits. So this test statement was incorporated into the survey: “I have reduced my usual charitable giving in 2018 due to increasing my giving to political candidates in this year’s mid-term election.” Nationally, a combined 22.5 percent registered some level of agreement; 10.1 percent strongly agreed and 12.4 percent somewhat agreed. Another 17.5 percent disagreed somewhat. More than half, 54.2 percent strongly disagreed, though.

Tax Law Changes Still Could Have an Impact

After full-year donations are tallied across the country’s nonprofit organizations, and after professionals are consulted about their experiences in working with donors, it will become clearer whether recent changes to tax law will dampen charitable giving by individuals and couples. “This is making charitable organizations very anxious in a time when budgets are tight,” said Dr. Susan Kinsella, dean of the College of Education and Social Services.

Specifically, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 raised the standard deduction levels on personal income taxes and simultaneously made it harder to itemize deductions. The standard deduction—whatever the level in a given year for different categories of taxpayers—is a catch-all amount that reduces taxable income. American taxpayers can take the standard deduction, or, if they have enough allowable expenditures (such as property taxes) to exceed the benefit the standard deduction provides them, they can itemize their deductions. Raising the standard deduction reduces the likelihood that people will compile the extra paperwork needed to itemize, and may reduce the amount they expend on deductions that are optional for them, such as donations to charities approved under the tax code. Granted, getting a tax benefit may not be the only motivation for people to give, and some people may carry on with their prior giving habits. But, Kinsella explained, professionals in the nonprofit sector are worried that the change in rules will substantially reduce the number of households that do. “Although higher-income people may continue to make charitable contributions, it is likely that fewer middle-class people will do so,” Kinsella explained.

About the Poll
METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted October 11 through October 17, 2018 among a base of 1,167 respondents, using an online instrument. The survey has a +/- 3.0 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: http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

Media contacts: Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications jo-ann.johnston@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).
Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications mary.mccoy02@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).

More About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University (www.saintleo.edu) 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 nearly 12,000 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 93,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.