Where You Live, How You Give: What a Fidelity Study Says About U.S. Donors

 Rangga Wijaya/shutterstock

 Rangga Wijaya/shutterstock

In addition to covering giving at the national and global levels, Inside Philanthropy reports on news and trends in nine regions of the United States. One of the most interesting things about following giving in so many regions is observing how the priorities and styles of funders can differ from place to place. The issues affecting rural New Mexico, for example, tend to be significantly different than those on the forefront of funders’ minds in New York City. And the philanthropy scene in Chicago is quite distinct from that of the Bay Area. 

A new study sponsored by the nation’s second largest grantmaker, Fidelity Charitable, highlights some of these differences, drawing on Fidelity's massive trove of proprietary data.

The scope and reach of Fidelity Charitable's grantmaking is hard to overstate. In 2016, donors recommended 849,000 grants that totaled $3.5 billion to 114,000 organizations. Around 90,000 donors had charitable accounts at Fidelity in 2016. 

When this philanthropy juggernaut takes a moment to offer insights about giving trends in America, it's worth paying attention. 

The Geography of Giving is a Fidelity Charitable research project that reveals how donor needs and interests are tied to particular geographic areas and differ across regions. To come to these conclusions, the researchers looked at 30 metro areas and funding in eight different issue areas: arts and culture, education, environment and animals, health, human services, international affairs, religion, and society benefit.

Here are a few highlights of the study, including some that are quite surprising. 

Bay Area, Los Angeles, and the West

While conventional wisdom suggests that tech donors dominate giving in the Bay Area and that these donors care for little for the arts, Fidelity's study draws a very different picture. The arts and culture are a big deal in the Bay Area, and San Francisco actually ranks first in the nation for its arts and culture support. San Francisco is also the top city for environmental and animal welfare donors, which may surprise some funders in the Seattle and Portland metro areas. Less surprising is that people who live in the West and Northwest, with all its big nature, tend to give much more to environmental charities than donors elsewhere. Groups like the Nature Conservancy, for instance, do very well in these regions.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the top funding priorities identified by the study were education and human services, with about 48 percent of grant dollars going to local charities.

Boston and the Northeast

Support for education is particularly strong in the Northeast when compared to elsewhere in the region. Health is also a big cause in this region, and Boston, with its many prominent hospitals and medical centers, is the top donor city for health funding. Boston also topped Fidelity Charitable’s list of cities with the largest number of giving accounts and with total giving amounts higher than the national average. Keep in mind that Fidelity has its worldwide headquarters in Boston. 

That education and healthcare are dominant giving priorities in the Northeast isn't surprising. Historically, these two areas have always attracted the most donor dollars, and that's likely to be all the more true in older regions of the country with a greater density of education and healthcare institutions. 

Chicago and the Midwest

Religious organizations have a stronghold in the Midwest, not necessarily in Chicago, but in other Midwestern cities and rural areas. Indianapolis claimed the top spot for the most religious support in the nation.

In Chicago, food banks and homeless shelters are among the top charities funded. Otherwise, hospitals and disease-related charities tend to fare very well in the Midwest, with large and consistent grants going to the American Cancer Society and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

New York and the Tri-State Area

New York is a global city, and many donors here look beyond U.S. borders to give charitably. This is something distinctive about New York City donors, which hold the top spot for supporting international affairs and global causes.

Moving beyond New York City to the Greater Tri-State Area, donors in Bridgeport, Connecticut, really stood out in Fidelity Charitable’s study. Bridgeport has strong backing for education support, which isn’t a huge surprise, considering how many residents have at least a Bachelor’s degree here. Donors in the Bridgeport metro area, which includes the cities of Greenwich and Westport, also stand out for their human services funding. 

Atlanta and the Southeast

Like the Midwest, religious groups receive a steady show of support from funders in the South and Southeast. For example, religion is the most popular charitable sector in the Atlanta area, followed by human services and education. No big surprises, here. There's a reason the deep South is called the Bible Belt. 

However, Florida is a unique place for donors in the Southeast because of its strong giving for societal benefit. Miami was the top U.S. city for society benefit giving, and Naples came in second after Bridgeport, Connecticut, for human services funding.

Dallas and the Southwest

Religion was also the top cause of charitable funding among donors in the Dallas area, followed by human services and education. In this way, there are some direct parallels between Southeast and Southwest funding. Top causes funded in the Dallas area are the North Texas Food Bank, North Texas Public Broadcasting, and the SPCA of Texas. Other areas of the Southwest were not highlighted in Fidelity Charitable's study.

Keep in mind that these regional assessments are only observations of Fidelity Charitable donors and not necessarily a reflection of the many private family foundations and community funders in these areas. But based upon our reporting of grantmaking in these places, the picture that Fidelity paints in this study strikes us as accurately capturing larger philanthropy trends by region. These findings can serve as practical guides for grantseekers looking for funding in certain places.