Despite the weak economy and tight household budgets, 97% of Americans polled by the Tiller Social Action Survey continue to believe that it is important to contribute to charity.

Eighty percent of respondents said their charitable donations this year will be the same or more than what they gave away last year.

“It is clear that consumers remain very charitable, and that is in the face of the worst economy in 60 years,” said Rob Densen, founder and chief executive officer of New York City-based Tiller, a consulting firm that specializes in advocacy marketing programs.

But for many Americans, giving is just the beginning. Tiller also found that Americans are paying closer attention to how their charitable dollars are spent. Among those who made charitable donations this year, 51% say that the operating efficiency of charities they support is more important than a year ago, and 44% said it was the same.

Also, 53% of Americans check a charity’s operating efficiency at least occasionally. (To do so, they look at an organization’s annual report or go to, or similar rating websites.) Notably, 19% of Americans say they always check a charity’s efficiency, up substantially from 12% in Tiller’s 2006 survey.

Advisers can glean two things from the survey, even if the survey is not focused on respondents’ relationship with their advisers, according to Densen. First, clients want to be sure that they are getting advice that aligns with their charitable interests. Advisers who can help clients give money away in the most tax-efficient manner possible have a competitive advantage. Any advice that allows a client to have more impact with their dollars, matters, Densen said.

Second, advisers should take another look at their own and their firms’ civic involvement. Clients are looking for advisers who share their desire to be benevolent, Densen said. Good works are one way to demonstrate how much the adviser knows and cares about his or her community. “There is a subtext to all of this,” he said. “Give back. Be visible, because the client is watching. For some clients, the scorecard is not entirely about money.”

Conducted online between Nov. 27 and Dec. 2, the survey gathered responses from 1,000 Americans.

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