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Where do Minnesota’s most charitable citizens live (at least according to the IRS)?

’Tis the season of giving. And sneaking in last-minute charitable contributions.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who are the most charitable Minnesotans of all?

That would be the folks up in Stevens County (in western central Minnesota), according to the most recent Internal Revenue Service data available — from 2014.

Stevens County residents who itemized their tax deductions gave 6.6 percent of their adjusted gross income to charitable organizations, more than double the statewide rate of 2.9 percent.

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Of course, that’s not quite the whole picture. This dataset — which is only based on income tax returns — can’t tell us about the charitable donations that aren’t itemized on the returns as deductions (though itemized donations do make up the bulk of charitable contributions, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy). Also, since the data only accounts for itemized deductions, it misses the charitable contributions of taxpayers who instead opt to take the standard deduction.

Now, with those big caveats in mind, back to the data. Following Stevens county in generosity are Pipestone (5.8 percent of adjusted gross income), Kandiyohi (4.4 percent), Rock (4.2 percent) and Nobles counties (4.1 percent). The counties whose residents gave the least were Koochiching (2 percent), Clearwater, Kanabec and Scott (all 2.2 percent).

Rate of itemized charitable deductions by county, 2014
Source: Internal Revenue Service

Demographic differences

The regional variation in giving makes sense, because demographics have something to do with who gives to charity, said Nathan Dietz, senior research associate in the Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy.

Data from the Current Population Survey volunteer supplement shows that as people get older, more of them donate to charitable or religious organizations. A higher level of education is also correlated with giving, and income is related to giving, too.

Interestingly, the relationship between income and charitable giving is U-shaped, according to the Urban Institute, with people at the lower end of the income spectrum and the higher end tending to give higher shares of their income.

Religion also has a lot to do with donations, researchers have found. About a third of contributions to charitable organizations in 2013 were given to religious organizations, according to the Urban Institute’s annual summary of the nonprofit sector.

These factors may help explain why Pipestone County — older, less wealthy and more religious than the state as a whole — has such high rates of giving. Its median age — 42.3 — is nearly five years older than the state’s (37.7), and median household incomes there are much lower ($46,990 in Pipestone versus $61,492 in the state). Pipestone has a populace that’s less educated than Minnesota’s (19 percent have a bachelor’s degree versus nearly 34 percent statewide), but its residents are among the most religious of any county in the state: 899 of every 1,000 residents are adherents of a religion, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives' 2010 U.S. Religious Congregations and Membership Study.

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But these demographic factors are correlated with — not causations of — higher rates of giving. And they don’t seem to be able to explain why Stevens County’s residents are so generous. More than half of Stevens County’s population is in Morris, the county seat and college town — home to the University of Minnesota-Morris, which may skew the area’s population younger and lower income. The median age is 32.7, which is lower than the state’s, at 37.7. Median household income in Stevens County is $52,302, which is lower than the state’s ($61,492), according to the Census Bureau.

Nearly three-quarters of Stevens County residents are adherents to a religion, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives’ 2010 Religion Census. That’s not the highest rate in the state, but it’s nowhere near the lowest rate (Isanti County, where less than a third of the population are religious adherents).

Random Acts of Data is an occasional series by MinnPost data reporter Greta Kaul and news editor Tom Nehil. The goal: to answer questions about all things Minnesota using the vast amount of data at our disposal. If you have a question you’re wondering about, send an email to with the subject line, “Random Acts of Data.”