Skip to site content

U.S. Adults: Volunteering More Generous Than Monetary Donations

Volunteering and other hands-on ways of helping others are more likely to be seen as generous actions by U.S. adults over financial contributions, according to a Barna Group report released Aug. 21.

When asked to select three items from a list of 11 actions deemed “the most generous things a person can do,” only two actions received a majority of affirmation: “Taking care of someone who is sick” (57 percent) and “Volunteering for an organization” (52 percent).

Boomers (born 1946 to 1964) were most likely to select “taking care of someone who is sick” at 67 percent, followed by Elders (born prior to 1946) at 62 percent, Gen-Xers (born 1965 to 1983) at 56 percent, and Millennials (born 1984 to 1998) at 51 percent.

Other leading responses focused on helping others were “Signing up to be an organ donor” (30 percent), “Talking to or smiling at a stranger” (21 percent) and “Helping someone move” (17 percent).

Three of the 11 actions were focused on donating to various causes: “Giving $40 to a homeless person” (26 percent), “Donating $40 to an organization” (20 percent) and “Giving a $40 offering to a church” (15 percent).

Millennials (16 percent) were most likely to select church giving as a generous action, followed by Gen-Xers and Boomers (both at 15 percent). Elders were the least likely age group to select church giving at 8 percent.

“Analysis suggests this disparity may have something to do with people’s perceptions of personal cost – that actions requiring more effort tend to be perceived as more generous,” the report stated.

Most Christian respondents felt it was acceptable to volunteer at their churches instead of offering monetary support, while most pastors disagreed.

When asked, “Is it OK for members to volunteer for their church instead of giving financially,” 37 percent of parishioners said they “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree,” compared to only 9 percent of pastors.

A strong majority (85 percent) of pastors said they either “somewhat disagree” or “strongly disagree” with that sentiment, compared to 21 percent of parishioners who disagreed.

“The gap between pastors and parishioners on this point is interesting, given that volunteering appears to be a focus of sermons more often than financial giving,” the report said. “If pastors’ own messages seem to prioritize acts of service over financial giving, it’s not too surprising that people in their pews highly value volunteer hours, even as an appropriate substitute for a monetary gift.”

The full report is available here.