In your face, Huffington Post and CNBC, and all the other naysayers who reported last week that the rich aren’t as philanthropic as regular Joes. Turns out, East Hampton residents who earn more money also give a greater percentage to charitable causes.
According to a study conducted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, using Internal Revenue Service tax records from 2008 (the most recent available), East Hampton households in ZIP code 11937 with discretionary incomes over $200,000 gave away 8 percent of it to charities. Compare that stat to people with an income between $50,000 and $99,999, who contributed 7.5 percent of it to nonprofits.
What’s up with the people in between, who make $100,000 to $200,000? Those East Hampton taxpayers gave away only 4.5 percent of their discretionary means.
“Donors often give more when they feel more connected to and rooted in their community,” explained Emily Gipple, a data-based reporter at the Chronicle of Philanthropy, in an e-mail. “The strong and welcomed presence of nonprofits and the causes they support may keep charity top-of-mind for residents, and at a certain level of income and lifestyle, philanthropy becomes a regular part of social life.”
Ms. Gipple’s comments suggest that East Hampton’s summer benefit culture could explain why the affluent are more benevolent. But is it more than an open bar of top-shelf cocktails in exchange for a five- or even six-figure ticket?
“A long time ago, residents at the end of Long Island learned that if we don’t help others in our community, who will?” said Barbara Jo Howard, director of marketing and communications at Guild Hall. “It’s a part of the community’s heritage.” Ms. Howard said Guild Hall raises money through a variety of methods, including art and ticket sales, benefits, and “simply through members’ generosity.”
“A lot of Alec Baldwin’s fans come out to show support when he is tied to an event, but we have soooo much diverse talent that works with Guild Hall,” she said.
“We noticed a reduction in giving during the economic downswing a couple of years ago,” said Mary Anna Morris, general manager of the East Hampton Ladies Village Improvement Society, which raises money through fund-raising drives, thrift shop and bookstore sales, and its popular annual fair. “People have been very generous this year, donating not just money, but also books, furniture, and clothing.”
East Hampton was the only South Fork town in which the wealthiest people gave a higher percentage of their discretionary income. The most affluent Montauk taxpayers gave only 2.1 percent of disposable income to charity, compared with 6.4 percent from the $50,000 to $99,999 range. In Sagaponack, residents in that same under-$100,000 bracket gave a whopping 13.8 percent, and in Bridgehampton, those in the same bracket gave 11.5 percent. Granted, there are fewer than 50 Sagaponack households in the data who make between $50,000 and $99,000 — probably retirees with few or no expenses, Ms. Gipple said. The wealthiest Sagaponack residents gave a less-than-impressive 2.5 percent, which is below the national average of 4.2 percent.
The data suggests that religion plays a big part in a community’s giving habits. When church or synagogue-related giving isn’t counted, the geography of giving is very different. Some states in the Northeast jump into the top 10 when secular gifts alone are counted. New York would rise from No. 18 to No. 2.
“For a small community, people are very charitable,” said Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons. “For instance, we received a very large gift from an anonymous donor this year who strictly wanted to help feed the hungry.” Rabbi Zimmerman said all churches and synagogues here have two fund-raising components: one to support internal operations, and another to help the community — sheltering the homeless, soup kitchens, and scholarships.
Even though the wealthy may give a lesser percentage of their income elsewhere, the study finds that the richest Americans still contribute the vast majority of dollars to charitable causes.