On a good day, generosity is a hard thing to measure. What counts? Plenty, and it’s not all reflected on our tax returns.

But when the philanthropy world attempts to document the generosity of Americans, who are by any measure the most generous folks on earth, the only way we can do so is with data from the IRS 1040.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has recently released a major survey, based on the most recent available numbers from the 2008 tax year. While the data are limited, the relativity of the results is interesting and worthy of our consideration.

First, let’s be clear: only itemized deductions for charitable gifts are included because they are the only data available. But the Chronicle has done some good work and you can read about how the data was derived and used here: http://philanthropy.com/article/How-The-Chronicle-Compiled-Its/133667.

It is important to highlight that because the cost of living varies greatly, The Chronicle adjusted incomes so they could show the percentage of income that households donated from the money they had left after paying their taxes and covering housing, food, and other essential expenses which they define as “discretionary income.”

What do the numbers tell us? Our community’s results mirror many of the themes of the national data. More curious perhaps is New Jersey’s – and Mercer County’s – relatively low rankings in giving percentages for all income levels, despite our higher discretionary income. As a state we lag the national giving percentage by 21%; and as a county we lag both the nation and the state.

Could we be doing more? What would it take? Are you ready?

Click here to view Mercer County data.

Click here  for the national data set.