How much we give

Every year, dozens of local charities and organizations ask for donations, and every year local residents open their wallets.

While the amount varies widely, the median amount local households donated to charity was $3,590 in 2012, the most recent year data was available, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

That puts Johnson County in third place for giving among central Indiana counties. And based on the county’s median household income that same year of $85,551, Johnson County residents gave about 4 percent of their income to charity, according to the data, which is figured based on information from the Internal Revenue Service, the Census and

other sources.

“(Giving) 4 percent of income is a sizable chunk in this sector,” Ball State University economics professor Michael Hicks said.

Those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Households that make less than $50,000 per year typically don’t receive significant tax benefits for their contributions, Hicks said. That means residents making less than that amount who give $1,000 to their church or regularly donate to the United Way and didn’t report those contributions won’t have their donations show up in the report, he said.

And some residents don’t report every time they make a donation, such as when they drop some change into the bucket of Salvation Army bell ringers or when they donate clothes to Goodwill.

That means the actual rate of giving in Johnson County is likely greater than 4 percent, Hicks said.

How much people donate often is connected with how much they earn.

Among central Indiana counties, Boone County was No. 1 in both the highest median household income and highest median donation. Income was $112,728, and those residents donated $4,108 — the highest amount by far in the region. Next was Hamilton County, with a median donation amount of $3,616 and income of $112,438, according to the data.

By percentage, Boone County families donated 3.6 percent of their income, while the figure was 3.2 percent for Hamilton County.

Johnson County ranked third for contributions but fifth for income, the data said.

And within the county, how much residents donated also varied based on where they live.

In the Center Grove area, for example, the median income was $91,217, and residents gave $3,725 that year. In Franklin, residents earned $75,426, and donated $3,288.

The Needham area had the highest median income at $145,544 and highest contribution at $5,388. And Whiteland had the lowest median income at $72,313 and lowest contribution at $2,765, according to the data.

The data show that residents value the work churches and other nonprofit organizations do in the community. They also know that those groups and organizations would be unable to conduct their work without the contributions, Hicks said.

Over the next few years, Hicks said, the amounts that households contribute likely will remain the same.

Since the recession began, the unemployment rate has dropped, but wages have remained stagnant or increased only slightly. At the same time, necessary expenses, such as housing and health care, have risen, meaning people have to be more deliberate about how they spend their money, Hicks said.

But residents likely will continue finding ways to give away some of what they earn, Hicks said.

“Households tend, even at the lowest level of income, to give something,” he said.