A ComRes survey for the BBC that has been published today has implied that people who are religiously practicing are more likely to donate to charitable causes than those who are not. The study, carried out via telephone with 2,606 English adults, reports that 77% of those who claim to be religiously practicing gave to charity in the month preceding the study, compared to 67% of other respondents. However, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has questioned the nature of this giving, and noted that these recent findings are contradicted by previous research into volunteering. For example, a 2007 study undertaken by the National Council of Voluntary Organisations found that ‘religious affiliation makes little difference in terms of volunteering’, and that six sevenths of registered charities are not religious in nature.
The ComRes study focuses on English practicing religious adults, a narrow group in comparison to those within England who identify as religious, and does not take into account which charities money was donated to or in what manner the money was donated. As most Christian churches within the United Kingdom involve the passing round of collection plates as part of religious service, this effect is most likely to affect the results of those asked; and as some of this money will be spent on causes that benefit the churches involved but not wider society, charitable giving by those who are religious may not actually be of as much great benefit to society as the figures might suggest.
Within some religions there are specific rules on charitable giving, suggesting that people are more likely to give to organisations when they are told rather than for their personally held beliefs. This point is exemplified by the ComRes study, which concludes that being asked to donate has a large influence on how much an individual donates, and our behaviours towards charitable giving are influenced by others. With donations in the form of collection plates being heavily promoted within Church services, this will also impact individuals’ tendencies to donate. Similarly, the conclusions that more religiously practicing people than others believe that their friends and family donate may be down to the fact that they are associated with similar religious institutions as themselves, and hence also be giving to causes which might have less impact on wider society.
Previous research states that many non-religious individuals donate their time to a huge range of charitable causes and organisations. Furthermore, these individuals are not donating their time to causes in the name of being non-religious. Moreover, some of these individuals are volunteering for groups with a religious affiliation and so these people may be less visible in their charitable contribution. A 2001 Home Office study showed that more individuals of no religious affiliation participated in informal volunteering than those of faith.
Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public affairs at the British Humanist Association commented ‘That active members of civil society and social organisations like religious groups give more to charity is no surprise. Members of the BHA also give more to charity than the average. This survey portrays an unbalanced situation in regards to the charitable motivations of both religious and non religious members of the public alike, nor does it take into consideration the heavy amount of promotion within places of worship by religious authorities of self-interested causes, compared to the thousands of humanists who make donations of both their time and money without the pressure of religious rules and requirements. It would be useful to have further research undertaken into what causes are being supported by those involved in the ComRes study, and in what manner these donations are being made.’
For further information or comment, contact BHA Head of Public Affairs, Pavan Dhaliwal at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0773 843 5059.
Read the BBC’s report:
Read the BHA’s briefing on Religion, belief & volunteering: http://humanists.uk/wp-content/uploads/1bha-briefing-volunteering-12-10-final.pdf
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.