WASHINGTON – It’s the giving season again and, once again, Maryland residents are not expected to be particularly giving.
In a “generosity index” released in September, Maryland ranked 44th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in charitable giving.
And state officials said they are not surprised.
Larry Walton, chair of the Maryland Gives! Task Force called it “just another report saying the same thing.” But Walton, whose task force was set up by the secretary of state to study and encourage charitable giving, noted that Maryland used to be ranked 47th, so “the envelope is going in the right direction. It just needs to pick up speed.”
Maryland, which the report called the sixth-richest state in the nation, sat near the bottom in charitable giving, along with other relatively wealthy states of New England.
Meanwhile, Southern states with lower incomes, like Mississippi and Arkansas, topped the chart. The index was based on a comparison of average income and average itemized charitable deductions from 1998 federal tax returns.
A trustee of the Ellis L. Phillips Foundation, which released the report, said Maryland’s top income groups were bringing down the state’s overall rank, by giving a small percentage of their income to charities. While the high cost of living in Maryland could be used as an excuse by most people, that is not the case for the highest income brackets.
“The top income average is $507,779. When you have $508,000, you’re not worried about the cost of living,” said George McCully, the Phillips trustee. “It’s just the top group holding you (Marylanders) back.”
Walton said the task force has seen that people with incomes over $100,000 tend to give smaller percentages than those earning less.
“It doesn’t mean Maryland doesn’t have people who are generous,” he said, but it does raise questions that he has been unable to answer.
“I wish I could put my finger on it and correct it,” Walton said. “It would make my job a lot easier.”
Bill Ewing, executive director of the Maryland Food Bank, said his organization has found many Marylanders who are willing to give. While he could not say that his donors tend to be more or less wealthy, he did have an idea of why the richest might sometimes be less generous.
“Why it’s true I don’t know. But poor people are closer to the problem and know what it’s like. If I had to guess, I’d say that is it,” Ewing said.
Ralph Nappi, president of the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Mid-Atlantic office, said his organization has had a very positive experience in Maryland, but he knows that there are small groups of people who are less willing to give.
“When we go out and speak to people in Maryland, they are always generous and kind. But Maryland is a pretty big state with a lot of people all over. So there are pockets where people have a lot of money and don’t give a lot of it,” Nappi said.
Walton said the geography of the state could also keep people from giving.
“The geography creates a situation where a lot of people who live in Maryland work in another state. Sometimes when you have that, you don’t have as much putting roots down in local communities,” Walton said. “But I can’t prove it. I wish I could.”
Walton, who is also president of the United Way of Central Maryland, said maybe the non-profits should be doing more.
“I’m in that business every day. . .I’d like to think we’re doing a good job asking. But maybe we’re not getting the message out,” he said.
Ewing said that “when we do make our point with people, they are willing to give.”
And McCully tried to put the best face on the report for Maryland.
“If you invert this index and call it an opportunity index, you could say in proportion to income, Maryland has a greater opportunity for giving than other states,” McCully said. “There is the greatest room to grow.”