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Wells Fargo: Upper-Income Investors Place High Value on Charitable Giving


Current political climate a bigger motivator than the economy for giving more

SAN FRANCISCO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Charitable giving is nearly universal among upper-income U.S. investors, according to a new Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism study. Nearly all upper-income investors (93%) report they donated money to a non-faith-based organization in the past year, and 59% report giving to a faith-based organization. Altogether, 97% gave to one or the other and only 3% gave to neither.

Giving also is an important core value to most investors, as six in 10 say that donating or spending a percentage of their income to help others is an extremely or very important financial value to them. More say that living within their means (91%) or saving money for a rainy day (90%) are highly important; however, donating ranks above making sure that companies they invest in align with their values (42%) or have a positive societal impact (35%).

“These numbers confirm that giving is a top priority for many in the U.S. today,” said Beth Renner, national director of philanthropic services for Wells Fargo Private Bank. “We see that in our business each day, as more and more people are seeking advice on how to make a difference with their charitable giving.”

The findings are based on a survey of 525 U.S. adults with at least $10,000 in stock or bond investments who earn $240,000 or more annually. This group is equivalent to the top 5% of U.S. households. Gallup conducted the poll Oct. 7–13.

Fewer upper-income investors say they volunteered time to a charitable cause in the past year than say they donated money. About two-thirds (64%) volunteered for a non-faith-based group and 37% to a faith-based group; 25% did neither.

Separately, the poll asked upper-income investors who are parents to rate the importance of certain goals for their children. The most highly rated is becoming financially self-sufficient, with 99% saying this is extremely or very important, followed by learning how to invest (89%) and attending college (86%). Donating to charity ranks next at 66%, ahead of owning their own home (62%), volunteering in their community (59%) and getting a high-paying job (54%).

U.S. political climate is spurring many to give more

The current U.S. political climate is having more impact on upper-income investors’ financial giving than is each of three economic factors. Nearly half of upper-income investors say the political climate is affecting how much they donate, with 40% saying it is causing them to donate more than they did before and 7% saying it is causing them to donate less. By contrast, the overall impact is 26% for current economic conditions, 25% for the 2007–09 recession and 25% for recent tax changes.

Highlighting the intersection of charitable giving and values, the political climate is having the greatest impact on upper-income investors who self-identify as Democrats, with 54% of this group saying they are giving more to charitable groups today. About four in 10 of those who self-identify as independents (39%) also report this increase. Only 18% of those who self-identify as Republicans report they increased their donations based on the political climate.

“Philanthropy has often times been considered a ‘guardian of values’ in our society,” said Renner. “This survey tells us people are now giving or planning to give to causes that represent some type of philanthropic value they hold sacred.”

According to investors’ self-reports, current economic conditions have had a net positive effect on their giving and the recession and tax changes have had a net negative effect. Overall, upper-income investors gave an average $5,500 to non-faith-based organizations in the past year, with the median amount being $2,000.

Are each of the following causing you to donate more money to charity this year than you did before, causing you to donate less, or not making a difference?

Donate More

Donate Less

No difference




The current political climate




Current economic conditions




Recent tax changes




The 2007-2009 economic recession and financial crash





Parents influence giving and volunteering habits

About one in five upper-income investors say their parents were extremely or very active in volunteerism when they were young. Another 36% say their parents were somewhat active, and 40% say they were not active. Among those whose parents were at least somewhat active, four in 10 say their parents involved them a lot or a fair amount in volunteer work at the time.

Upper-income investors whose parents were highly active in volunteerism are much more likely than those whose parents were only somewhat active or not active to rate donating to charity as an extremely important financial value. They are also more likely to say it’s extremely important that their children donate to charity and volunteer in their communities. Further, upper-income investors whose parents were extremely or very active volunteers report giving more to charity in the past year ($8,203) than those whose parents were only somewhat active ($5,482) or not active ($4,179).

“Parents want their children to be good citizens and active in giving back. That has a lasting impact. When parents are more active in volunteering and giving back, their children will most likely continue that trend,” said Renner. “An individual’s level of philanthropic engagement is greatly influenced by their parents’ actions, and these findings reinforce that our past is present in our giving,”

Multiple reasons cited for giving

Most upper-income investors say that strongly believing in the causes they support (78%), wanting to make a difference (71%) and enjoying helping others (62%) are major reasons they donate money or volunteer.

Beyond these fundamental motives, 56% rate having a personal connection to the issues or organizations they are involved with as a major reason they give. The survey didn’t specify these connections; however, health-based charities, membership in a nonprofit group or a person’s alma mater are examples of such associations.

In addition, nearly four in 10 upper-income investors (37%) say they donate time or money as a way to give back for help they received in the past from others.

Please indicate whether each of these factors is a major reason, a minor reason or not a reason why you donate time or money to charitable and/or non-profit organizations?

Major Reason

Minor Reason

Not a Reason

Doesn't Apply





Strong belief in the causes you support





To make a difference





Enjoy helping others





Personal connection to an issue or organization





Feel a moral obligation because of your financial position






Other key reasons for charitable giving or volunteering for at least a third of upper-income investors pertain to a sense of duty. This includes 38% saying they feel a moral obligation because of their financial position and 34% wanting to set an example for their children. Fewer (21%) cite a religious commitment or obligation.

A quarter say a major reason they donate or volunteer is that they were taught to do so by their parents or other family members (24%). Half as many (13%) cite being asked by someone they know or work with being a major reason, and only 2% say social pressure is as important.

Close to half of respondents acknowledge that taxes are at least a minor reason for their giving, but just 7% say tax savings is a major reason.

Donating, values-based investing more important to women than men

When investors were asked what financial values are important to them, men and women place equal importance on basic money management goals, but women attach more importance than men to donating: 64% of women versus 56% of men say donating to help others is a highly important financial value to them. The gender gap is even larger with respect to wanting the companies they invest in to have the right values (a 20-point difference) and for those companies to have a positive societal impact (23 points).

How important to you are each of the following financial values?







Not spending more than you earn




Earning and saving as much as possible to achieve financial freedom




Putting money away for a rainy day




Donating or spending a percentage of your income to help others




Requiring that companies you invest in are aligned with your values




Requiring that companies you invest in have a positive societal impact





Women investors also are more likely than men to say it is highly important that their children donate to charity (74% of women versus 60% of men) as well as volunteer in their community (68% versus 51%).

In line with women placing higher importance on donating as a personal financial value, women also are more likely than men to say they donate because they enjoy helping others (74% of women versus 54% of men) and because they feel it’s their moral obligation (44% versus 34%).

Renner says the findings are typical: “Most women are hardwired for nurturing and want their children to represent compassion and empathy in their actions. That’s not to say men don’t want the same for their children. However, women tend to be very vocal about this.”

‘Philanthropic inflation’ a concern

Stating that their donation isn’t enough to make a difference is cited by 23% of upper-income investors as a reason for not giving more. Greater doubts about impact, however, are evident in another question: 58% say they wish their charitable efforts had had more impact, and 42% are satisfied they are having enough impact. This concern is particularly evident among female investors, with 64% of women versus 53% of men saying they wish their charitable activity had more impact. Renner said, “They worry about this idea of ‘philanthropic inflation,’ where the dollar doesn’t go as far as they’d like toward creating change.”

Savings goals and paying bills compete with making donations, but survey respondents still say they expect to give back. Two-thirds of upper-income investors say they expect to donate more in the future. Of these investors, the main expense they say prevents them from donating more is saving for retirement, mentioned by 73%, followed by household bills and living expenses, each mentioned by 60%.

Fewer than half cite debt or loan payments (40%), paying for a child’s college (35%) or providing support to an adult child (11%) as the main reasons they are not donating as much now as they would like to.

Renner concludes, “What I see here is that giving is a core value that is growing by each generation. I see it in our business every day. People want more guidance in this area, and they’re ready to act on it. There is a tremendous opportunity to create greater clarity for donors in the change they want to help create.”

About Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE: WFC) is a diversified, community-based financial services company with $1.9 trillion in assets. Wells Fargo’s vision is to satisfy our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially. Founded in 1852 and headquartered in San Francisco, Wells Fargo provides banking, investment and mortgage products and services, as well as consumer and commercial finance, through 7,500 locations, more than 13,000 ATMs, the internet ( and mobile banking, and has offices in 32 countries and territories to support customers who conduct business in the global economy. With approximately 261,000 team members, Wells Fargo serves one in three households in the United States. Wells Fargo & Company was ranked No. 29 on Fortune’s 2019 rankings of America’s largest corporations. News, insights and perspectives from Wells Fargo are also available at Wells Fargo Stories.

About Wells Fargo Private Wealth Management

Wells Fargo Private Wealth Management, the fourth largest wealth management provider in the United States (Barron’s 2018), offers a full range of financial services and products to help individuals and families build, manage, preserve and transfer their wealth. The Private Bank and Abbot Downing service clients across North America and internationally with $155 billion in assets under management (9/30/19).

About the Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index

The results of this Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index are based on a Gallup Panel web study completed October 7-13, 2019 by 525 U.S. investors aged 18+ with an annual household income of at least $240,000.

The Gallup Panel is a probability-based longitudinal panel of U.S. adults who Gallup selects using random-digit-dial phone interviews that cover landline and cellphones. Gallup also uses address-based sampling methods to recruit Panel members. The Gallup Panel is not an opt-in panel.

The sample for this study was weighted to be demographically representative of U.S. investors in households earning at least $240,000, using demographic targets obtained from prior Gallup U.S. investor surveys. For results based on this sample, one can say that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±10 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Margins of error are higher for subsamples. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error and bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For this study, the American investor is defined as an adult in a household with stocks, bonds or mutual funds of $10,000 or more, either in an investment account or in a self-directed IRA or 401(k) retirement account. About two in five U.S. households have at least $10,000 in such investments.

Vince Scanlon, 336.842.7687

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