A recent study, Giving in Puerto Rico, suggests that Puerto Rican households make charitable gifts at a higher rate than households on the United States mainland.

The 44-page study, which was commissioned by the Flamboyan Foundation, the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and the Kinesis Foundation, is in its own words “the first study of its kind to examine the charitable giving patterns, priorities, and attitudes of Puerto Rican households.”

And while the report aims to benefit nonprofit leaders seeking to approach Puerto Rican donors and Puerto Rican donors who can “use information in this report to benchmark their giving against similar households,” the results are interesting in themselves and raise questions about “informal” and “formal” charitable giving.

Some of its key findings:

The picture that emerges from this report is that Puerto Ricans are generous to those around them, willing to informally help strangers, neighbors, and friends who are in need. Though it is difficult to make sweeping conclusions based on one small survey (the sample size here didn’t exceed 1,000), the report’s conclusions seem to indicate that charitable giving may, on the whole, be understood differently among everyday Puerto Ricans than among everyday people in the mainland United States.

In the United States we have become very familiar with associating charitable giving with the nonprofit industry, thinking in terms of tax deductions, impact giving, and supporting causes and organizations (as opposed to individuals). In Puerto Rico, however, the informal needs of strangers, friends, and neighbors are seen as the target of charitable giving.

The report says as much, when it concludes that “these results suggest the need for nonprofits and the philanthropic community to develop strategies that aim to increase citizens’ awareness of the nonprofit sector” and that “nonprofits and interested stakeholders can help to induce more philanthropic behavior across Puerto Rican communities.” The authors of the report are hopeful that “education about how and why to give to nonprofits as opposed to informal giving, might also increase giving.”

The question that emerges is whether the report sees formal giving as preferable to informal. Does the former need to replace the latter, as the quote above suggests? Or should we seek to encourage—rather than transform—communities that value informal acts of charity between strangers, friends, and neighbors?


Photo credit: Jorge Quinteros via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND