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August 21, 2012 09:50 PM

How South Dakota Ranks On Giving

Sioux Falls, SD

With a reputation for generosity, it may surprise you to hear that people in South Dakota came in at the bottom of the list for charitable giving in a new study getting a lot of national attention.

South Dakotans reported charitable contributions totaling $266.3 million---the third lowest of all states.  But a local non-profit says the study is flawed and points to other data that shows just the opposite. 

Dave Long is this year's volunteer campaign chair for the United Way.  The organization hopes to raise the most ever at $9.7 million.  Long leads the way with his own family giving away up to 15 percent of their income a year.

"My family has been incredibly blessed and to be able to give back and invest in the community is very important to us and you get to see it in action," volunteer Dave Long said.

But a new study from the Chronicle of Philanthropy that shows South Dakota at the bottom of the giving list surprises everyone at this non-profit. 

"I don't buy it.  I think South Dakota is number two.  We're very generous people," Jay Powell of the United Way said.

And that is backed by a study conducted by the Urban Institute.  It's data is based on households who itemize charitable deductions on their tax returns. It finds that the average contribution of those who itemize in South Dakota is $5,728.  But the new study out this week wasn't based on tax returns.

"They did discretionary income, which is unusual to look at.  They also eliminated every family with less than $50,000 in income, which is going to skew the data," Powell said.
Angela Kennecke: Most of South Dakota? 
Powell: Yeah, half of South Dakota that eliminates.
Kennecke: And those people give money too?
Powell: Absolutely.  They are some of our best givers.  They are Heart Club members.

And both Powell and Long point out that the Chronicle of Philanthropy doesn't take into account volunteering, in which South Dakota comes in fifth.

"Everything that's a volunteer activity, people are showing up.  Maybe they can't give financially, but they certainly give of their time and resources as well," Long said.

Utah comes in first for charitable giving in both studies because of the Mormon tradition of tithing.  The Chronicle of Philanthropy finds that lower income people donate a bigger share of their discretionary incomes than wealthier people do.

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