'Tis the season to share … with nonprofits

Dec. 20, 2010 at 10:38 AM ET

It’s that time of year when people think about sharing, and a new survey finds that for many of us that includes charitable giving.

The poll, conducted by Harris Interactive for the online giving platform, found that 85 percent of Americans have donated to charity. Of those who do give money, about one-third are more likely to do so during the holidays.

Older Americans were most likely to have donated money, with 94 percent of those 55 and over reporting that they had donated at some point. Women were also slightly more likely to have given than men.

Why do people donate to nonprofits?

About half of the donors surveyed said they were motivated by wanting to do something positive for the community. The same percentage said they donated because someone they knew was fundraising for a specific cause, and 41 percent said they gave in response to a natural disaster. (Respondents were allowed to give more than one answer.)

Apparently, very few give for more selfish reasons: Only 17 percent said they did it to feel good about themselves during the holidays, and only 10 percent said they needed the tax write-off.

The recession and weak economic recovery has crimped giving to some charities, even as many nonprofits have said that the need for their services has increased. Last month, the Urban Institute and other organizations released their annual Nonprofit Fundraising Survey on giving so far this yaer.

Of about 2,500 charities surveyed, the report found that 36 percent had seen a rise in giving, while 37 percent had seen a decrease. The rest reported that giving had remained about the same.

The report said international giving was most likely to see an increase, as donors responded to disasters.

© 2014 CNBC LLC. All Rights Reserved