The gap between charitable giving in area towns varies widely, from Wilton, which is way above the state average, to Skowhegan, which is way below, according to a national study.

Among people making at least $50,000, Wilton’s residents are the most charitable of seven area towns that appeared in the Chronicle of Philanthropy study, while Skowhegan’s were found to be the least charitable.

The study looked at the charitable contributions reported by individuals with incomes of $50,000 or more on their 2008 tax returns, the most recent year available.

Wilton residents gave 4.6 percent of their income to charity, far more than the state average of 2.8 percent and just under the national average of 4.7 percent, according to the study.

Waterville was the next highest, with 2.9 percent of individual incomes going to charity.

The study found that Pittsfield residents gave 2.4 percent, Rumford ones gave 2.2 percent, Bingham 1.8 percent and Dexter 1.7 percent.

Skowhegan residents gave the lowest percentage at 1.6 percent.

The Rev. Mark Tanner, of Skowhegan’s Federated Church, said the town’s financial troubles are more significant than many other communities in the area.

He said that potential donors become so overwhelmed by the level of need in the community that they sometimes respond by not giving at all.

“There are so many organizations out there right now who are looking for help and assistance,” Tanner said. “There are a small group of people and businesses who are willing to help. They get hit so hard that after a while they just have to put a stop to it.”

Tanner said that he has seen giving to the church’s ecumenical fund, which is used to provide assistance to people with things like home heating, decline in recent years.

He said that the church receives individual donations that total between $3,000 and $5,000 a year, but that the need he sees is probably three times that amount.

Still, Tanner said, people do respond when a need is apparent.

“People have to be able to see the passion, to be able to feel the need and to know that what they give is able to help,” he said. As evidence, he pointed to a flood of donations the church received after a holiday manger scene was damaged in a fire.

“Within a matter of three days we had so many donations come in that we had enough to replace it,” he said.

And while donations came from across the country, Tanner said, about 80 percent of the donations came from local residents.

“I would not go anywhere else,” Tanner said. “I love this community.”

In Wilton, where individuals donate nearly three times what Skowhegan residents give to charity, the Wilton Public Library is one beneficiary of that generosity.

David Olson, the library’s director, said he’s not surprised that Wilton residents were found to be generous.

Olson estimated that about $30,000 in individual donations goes to support the library’s operating budget. In addition, the organization recently completed a 10-year fundraising campaign that generated about $500,000 for capital improvements for the library, including replacing the roof, putting in an elevator, and creating a mezzanine level.

He attributed the level of giving to a culture in which community giving has become the norm.

“Wilton people tend to come together and support what they would like to see to make it a better community,” he said. “They’re just not afraid to do that. People step up to the plate here.”

Maine’s state average of 2.8 percent was second-worst in the nation. New Hampshire’s rate of 2.5 percent was the lowest. The six lowest ranked states were all from New England, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The states with the most generous donors included top-ranked Utah, where residents donated an average of 10.6 percent of their incomes to charity, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and South Carolina.

Researchers pointed out one reason Utah’s level is so high is the large number of Mormons in the state, who are required to give 10 percent of their income to the church. It also points out that the South is the most Christian-affiliated section of the country. New England states are the most secular — or non-religious — many studies have shown. The Chronicle of Philanthropy researchers said that if religious organizations were omitted from the study, New England states would be shown to be the most generous.

The researchers said that the data can be misleading in certain cases because, for example, a community with a large number of retired people might show a higher ratio of giving to income, when retired people are more likely to be giving from their savings, which were not tracked in the study.

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