Study: Most Generous Cities

Famous author Mignon McLaughlin once said, “We'd all like a reputation for generosity, and we'd all like to buy it cheap.” In other words, if you throw just a penny in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas, can you get away with calling yourself kindhearted?

Not quite. What makes us generous is not just money toward a good cause but our time as well. set out to uncover the most generous U.S. cities, where people are most likely to do both. And we also considered the antithesis of generosity – theft – to weed out those major metropolitan areas where the more selfish set of people reside. Here’s what we found.

Study Methodology

First, we looked at which cities’ citizens are most generous with their time. For this, we looked at the 2012 data from the Corporation for National and Community Service. The data tracks residents’ altruism. Minneapolis had the highest rate, with 36.7% of its citizens volunteering; Miami came in last at 15.3%

To look at financial generosity, we used the most recent IRS data to see which states’ citizens reported the most charitable contributions. On total dollar contributions, New York won, but on a per citizen basis, the glory goes to Utah and Washington, D.C. (thank you, lobbyists?).

We also looked for cities with a high lack of generosity - also known as theft. Using FBI data from 2012, we found that there are, on average, 2,983 property crimes per 100,000 people. By this measure, Hammond, LA, wins the award for the most crime (5,780 crimes per 100,000), while residents of the Villages, FL, seem to have the most respect for property (with only 1,088 property crimes per 100,000).

Last, we noted that financial generosity by definition isn’t free. We’re all for giving everything you can but not at the expense of wrecking your credit score. So we docked cities that had the highest per capita credit card balances using data from Equifax. Here’s how the data looks.

10 Most Generous Cities in America

1. New York, NY

  • Property crimes per 100,000: 1,705
  • Volunteer rate: 18.3%
  • State charitable contributions per capita: $699
  • Credit card debt per person: $2,616

Apparently, New Yorkers prefer to donate money rather than time. The city has the lowest volunteer rate on the list, but it’s in a state with the highest per capita financial donation rate. To boot, the property crime rate is the lowest on the list, meaning that most people here know that stealing doesn’t exactly elevate your reputation as a good person.

Did you know?
The Food Bank for New York City is the country’s largest anti-hunger charity. It feeds 1.5 million people every year.

2. Boston, MA

  • Property crimes per 100,000: 1,984
  • Volunteer rate: 27.2%
  • State charitable contributions per capita: $561
  • Credit card debt per person: $3,068

Although wallets are a little more tightly closed in Boston than in New York when it comes to monetary donations (perhaps that’s because the credit card debt per person is about 17% higher here), Bostonians are way better at volunteering their time, which is just as valuable.

Did you know?
For a $50 donation to the Red Sox Foundation, the Boston team’s charity arm, you can have a scoreboard message run during the second or third inning in Fenway Park. Note: “live” marriage proposals require a phone call first.

3. San Diego, CA

  • Property crimes per 100,000: 2,197
  • Volunteer rate: 28.70%
  • State charitable contributions per capita: $542
  • Credit card debt per person: $2,292

Coming in at number three is sunny San Diego. These folks have less credit card debt than our top two finishers, but they also tend to take each other’s stuff a little more often, which isn’t very generous behavior. We admire the volunteer rate here, though.

4. Denver, CO

  • Property crimes per 100,000: 2,747
  • Volunteer rate: 30.1%
  • State charitable contributions per capita: $566
  • Credit card debt per person: $2,766

The Mile High City has a volunteer rate that’s a mile high - a full 30% of its citizens donate their time in some fashion, which is why this town lands high in the rankings. Denver also bests San Diego in terms of financial contributions, but sticky fingers in Denver mean that things go missing more often. Maybe they’re doing it to pay off their credit card debt.

Did you know?
Denver billionaire Bill Daniels, who died in 2000, passed along most of his $1.1 billion estate to a scholarship fund. He also donated $22 million to the University of Denver and his $7 million mansion to the city.

5. Atlanta, GA

  • Property crimes per 100,000: 3,383
  • Volunteer rate: 26.3%
  • State charitable contributions per capita: $618
  • Credit card debt per person: $1,994

Atlanta comes in at number five on our list of generous cities. With a high volunteer rate and the second highest financial donation rate, this town really knows how to show Southern hospitality. (It looks like folks aren’t running up their credit cards to make it happen, either, which is also great.) The crime rate is the highest on the list, however, which knocks Atlanta down a few notches.

6. Sacramento, CA

  • Property crimes per 100,000: 2,926
  • Volunteer rate: 25.4%
  • State charitable contributions per capita: $542
  • Credit card debt per person: $2,036

Sacramento is the second California city on our list, and it barely loses out to San Diego. This capital city has a higher property crime rate than San Diego, unfortunately, but what it lacks in legal sense in makes up for in financial generosity that doesn’t break the bank.

7. Pittsburgh, PA

  • Property crimes per 100,000: 1,901
  • Volunteer rate: 28%
  • State charitable contributions per capita: $452
  • Credit card debt per person: $2,086

Pittsburgh has the lowest financial donation rate on the list, but at least that’s not accompanied by a ton of credit card debt. This land of Carnegie also has one of the lowest crime rates on the list, and its volunteerism rate is commendable.

Did you know?
More than 1,200 people threw more than 100,000 water balloons at each other at the Pittsburgh Great American Water Balloon Fight in 2012, raising $22,000 for Haiti.

8. Dallas, TX

  • Property crimes per 100,000: 3,176
  • Volunteer rate: 27.5%
  • State charitable contributions per capita: $516
  • Credit card debt per person: $1,955

Dallas has the highest volunteerism rate of the three Southern cities on our list. It has a relatively low financial donation list, but folks are less likely to indenture themselves to Visa or MasterCard to do it - Dallas has the lowest credit card debt per capita on the list. It also has the second highest property crime rate, which dilutes some of those good vibes.

9. Tampa, FL

  • Property crimes per 100,000: 2,863
  • Volunteer rate: 23.1%
  • State charitable contributions per capita: $491
  • Credit card debt per person: $2,104

At number nine is Tampa, whose generous beaches are matched only by its generous people. With more than one in five residents volunteering their time somewhere and an average $491 in financial donations, Tampa has genuinely generous (and well-tanned) people.

10. Detroit, MI

  • Property crimes per 100,000: 2,730
  • Volunteer rate: 26.2%
  • State charitable contributions per capita: $474
  • Credit card debt per person: $2,405

We couldn’t be more proud that Detroit made the list. The city has struggled in recent years, but its citizens are not throwing in the towel. The city’s property crime rate is less than many other cities on our list, and its volunteer rate is higher. It still manages to donate about $474 per person. With statistics like that, we can’t wait to see Detroit rise from the ashes.

Did you know?
Since 2009, foundations have given more than $550 million to Detroit, going toward such efforts as urban farming, the arts, education, business training, and food assistance.

We realize that generosity doesn’t have a geographic component; rather, it’s more likely to do with how you were raised and whether you were born with the stinginess gene. But there is an indisputable community element; that is, when everyone around us is doing something, we’re more likely to do it too. So if you’re looking for that special kind of inspiration that comes only from giving and receiving, these cities are great places to find it.

Tina O is a contributing writer at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Tina O at Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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