Pat yourself on the back, Lexington and Central Kentucky. When it comes to giving money to charities and nonprofits, you rank second among the top 50 “most generous” markets in the country.
So says a recent study by The Barna Group, a California-based Christian research organization.
In data released in late July, 91 percent of Lexington adults surveyed by Barna said they gave to nonprofits and religious organizations.
Only El Paso, Texas-Las Cruces, N.M., ranked higher than Lexington, with 92 percent of adults giving to nonprofits and charities.
Memphis ranked third, Charleston-Huntington, W.Va., was fourth and Milwaukee was fifth.
Louisville ranked 34th; Washington D.C. ranked 50th.
The cities were ranked according to the percentage of those who said they donated any money to charities and nonprofits, including churches and religious organizations.
In Lexington, 84 percent of the respondents said they gave to churches. In El Paso-Las Cruces, 87 percent of the respondents said they gave to churches.
The study results were not surprising to Bill Farmer, president and CEO of United Way of the Bluegrass. Aside from Lexington, he has lived in other cities that made the “most generous” list, such as Denver, Charleston, W.Va., Raleigh-Durham, N.C., Greensboro, N.C., and Charlotte, N.C.
Lexington “is a generous market, not only with its resources, but also with its time and volunteers,” Farmer said.
“What we realize at the United Way is that we need to work very closely with the faith community to drive the kind of systemic change that the community needs,” Farmer said. “The question really becomes, how do you collaborate and drive the kind of change you want to see?”
That’s why churches like Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington collaborate with nonprofit organizations, said the Rev. Ron Edmondson.
“One of the reasons giving is as good as it is here is that we have so many great nonprofits here,” Edmondson said. “As a church, we decided not to do our own thing but to partner with existing organizations just because there are so many that are doing a good job.”
He cited Jubilee Jobs of Lexington, a nonprofit that provides job preparation and placement to the unemployed, the underemployed and those getting out of incarceration.
“If somebody comes to us with a need and they’re getting out of jail and they can’t find a job, we know where to send them,” Edmondson said. “We don’t try to re-create that because the need is being addressed in the community. The same with homelessness. We decided not to try to start our own ministry but to partner with those who are already on the ground running, like Lexington Rescue Mission, who are doing a wonderful job with that.”
In breaking down the numbers further, Barna looked at the socio-economic status of the cities. The findings showed that the most generous cities aren’t necessarily the most wealthy.
For example, 18 percent of the Lexington respondents were “downscale,” or adults with an annual household income of $20,000 or less and who do not hold a college degree. On the other hand, 11 percent of the Lexington respondents were considered “upscale,” or adults with an annual household income of $75,000 or more and who hold a college degree.
“It appears that those who are the least fortunate are the ones who are prepared to provide and give the most,” Farmer said. “What I have found in the South and in the Midwest, there is a greater desire to be more engaged in the community where people live. They are often economically distressed, but people are willing to give more as a percentage of their income.”
Eighteen of the top 20 cities ranked in the Barna study were in the South or Midwest.
The data in the study were analyzed by “designated market area” or DMA. The DMA represents a unique geographic area that also serves as a commonly accepted media market as defined by Nielsen Co., the TV-ratings organization. The Lexington DMA includes many of the counties surrounding Lexington.
DMAs are configured so that the every place in the U.S. is assigned to one of 210 DMAs in the country. While there are 210 DMAs, Barna contained data for the top 50 most generous markets.
The data reported by Barna was based on telephone and online interviews with nationwide random samples of 76,505 adults conducted over a 10-year period that ended in April. The margin of error associated with the sample is 0.4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.
The Barna Group is a private, nonpartisan organization that conducts research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors.
One other thing to note: last year, Lexington ranked 15th among the top 100 “Bible-minded” cities, according to another Barna study. That study, based on interviews with nearly 63,000 people over a 10-year period, ranked the top media markets based on their engagement with the Bible. Individuals who reported reading the Bible and who strongly asserted that the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches are considered to be “Bible-minded.”
So is there a correlation between being a “Bible-minded” city and its generosity?
“Well, I certainly hope so,” Edmondson said. “I don’t know that I can directly tie it together. But certainly you cannot read the Bible and be a student of the Bible and follow the principles of the Bible without loving people and wanting to make a difference in people’s lives. The two basic commandments we have is ‘love God’ and ‘love others.’ And so that has to translate into putting time and resources into the things that help people.”
Most generous cities/areas
1. El Paso, Texas/Las Cruces, N.M.
2. Lexington, Ky.
3. Memphis, Tenn.
4. Charleston-Huntington, W.Va.
5. Milwaukee, Wis.
Source: The Barna Group