Fidelity Charitable study reveals how geography affects donor giving, highlights differences

BOSTON, MA, August 20, 2019 – There are new top cities for giving according to a new study released today by Fidelity Charitable, the nation’s largest grantmaker. The Geography of Giving study takes a look at how donors in 30 cities around the country support causes in the eight charitable sectors defined by the IRS: arts and culture, education, environment and animals, health, human services, international affairs, religion and society benefit.

Responsive giving leaves a mark

Surges and drops in the rankings were, in many cases, tied to how donors responded to news-making issues in their communities, illustrating how giving remains strongly tied to local issues and concerns. Examples of how topical issues and events have affected giving include:

  • Human services sees a bump: As donors responded to natural disasters, such as Hurricane Florence in North Carolina and wildfires in California, the human services sector—the most popular charitable sector among Fidelity Charitable donors—saw the most changes in its ranking with four new cities joining the top 10: Seattle, Charlotte, Philadelphia and San Francisco.
  • Portland climbs the ranks: Portland moved four spots to second in the ranking for supporting the environment and animals sector. Environmental activism may have been top-of-mind in Portland last year, as Juliana v. United States—a landmark lawsuit filed in Oregon by 21 students against the federal government over its climate change policies—continued to garner media attention.
  • D.C. supports the world: Washington, D.C. surged in the ranking of supporting the international affairs sector. The increase in international support here was influenced by world events—from the humanitarian crisis in Yemen to immigration policies at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“As the nation’s largest grantmaker, we seek to understand the complete landscape of American giving—the priorities, concerns and values of donors across the country—to create a better informed donor community. Last year, Fidelity Charitable’s 200,000 donors generously supported more than 142,000 nonprofit organizations in every state and across the world, but what we consistently see is how dedicated our donors are to their local communities,” said Pam Norley, president, Fidelity Charitable.

The analysis highlighted philanthropic identities for the country’s different regions: support for education was particularly strong in the Northeast; religious organizations ranked high in the South and Midwest; the West was disproportionately prominent in its support of the environment and animals sector; and cities with a more global perspective were active in the international affairs sector.

For additional detail on reporting methodology and to read the complete analysis and download the ranking, visit 2019 Geography of Giving.

Highlights from 2019 Geography of Giving

Graphic showing the top metro areas for supporting each of the eight charitable sectors.

Arts & culture

Support for organizations like museums, arts programs and public broadcasting services continued to be strong, with Portland and Boston taking the top spots.  Portland, known for its vibrant art and music scene, moved up the rankings in 2018 to take the top spot for the first time. And Cleveland—an underestimated destination for the arts—pushed Chicago out of the rankings for the tenth spot.

  • #1 – Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton (+5)
  • #2 – Boston-Cambridge-Quincy (-1)
  • #3 – San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont (-1)
  • #10 – Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor (New)



Rankings for the education sector, which includes charities such as schools and universities, literacy and after-school programs and libraries, are the most stable and consistent from year to year. It is no surprise that cities like Bridgeport, Boston and New York City—with their proximity to globally recognized universities like Harvard, Yale and New York University—make up the top three spots in the rankings.

  • #1 – Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk (—)
  • #2 – Boston-Cambridge-Quincy (—)
  • #3 – New York–Northern New Jersey–Long Island (—)


Environment & animals

Support for this sector was on the rise last year, with a 24 percent year-over-year increase in the number of Giving Accounts recommending grants to environmental organizations—the largest increase of any charitable sector. Environment and animal charities, including conservation organizations, zoos and animal shelters, saw increased support in Portland and Boston. With Providence falling in the rankings to fourth, Boston moved to the top of the list for support of the environment and animal welfare. 

  • #1 – Boston-Cambridge-Quincy (+1)
  • #2 – Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton (+4)
  • #3 – San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont (—)
  • #10 – St. Louis (New)



Grants to health-related charities, hospitals or research organizations saw a 23 percent year-over-year increase—largely driven by support of prominent organizations working to address some of the world’s toughest health challenges, like the American Cancer Society, the Alzheimer’s Association and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Boston maintained its spot at the top of the list for supporting the health sector.

  • #1 – Boston-Cambridge-Quincy (—)
  • #2 – Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk (+2)
  • #3 – Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach (—)
  • #6 – Baltimore-Towson (New)


Human services

Human services is the most popular charitable sector among Fidelity Charitable donors nationwide, with many donors supporting charities such as food banks, homeless shelters and youth programs. Donors in the Cleveland area jumped two spots from the year before, making the region first in support of this sector. Several cities—Seattle, Charlotte, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.—were new to the rankings, influenced by issues and events affecting those local communities.

  • #1 – Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor (+2) 
  • #2 – Boston-Cambridge-Quincy (-1) 
  • #3 – Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk (+1) 
  • #6 – Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue (New) 
  • #7 – Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord (New) 
  • #8 – Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington (New) 
  • #10 – Washington-Arlington-Alexandria (New)


International affairs

Supporting charities like international development, relief and human rights organizations is generally influenced by current events, like the ongoing humanitarian and refugee crises in Yemen, Myanmar and Sudan. As a center for global politics and advocacy, it is no surprise that Washington, D.C. moved up the rankings to first for support of international affairs organizations—unseating New York for the top spot.

  • #1 – Washington-Arlington-Alexandria (+3) 
  • #2 – San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara (+1) 
  • #3 – New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island (-2) 
  • #7 – Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington (New) 
  • #9 – Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach (New)



Religion is one of the most popular charitable sectors among Fidelity Charitable donors nationwide, who support organizations such as churches, synagogues and temples. St. Louis maintained its place at the top of the list for giving to the religion sector in 2018—followed closely by Houston and Indianapolis, which jumped five and six spots in the ranking, respectively.

  • #1 – St. Louis (—) 
  • #2 – Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown (+5) 
  • #3 – Indianapolis-Carmel (+6)


Society benefit

Miami donors have long been strong supporters of this sector, which includes civil rights, community improvement, social advocacy and volunteer organizations. The metro area maintained its top spot in the rankings for the fourth year running. Cities that ranked for giving to this sector were fairly consistent year-over-year, with no cities dropping off the list in 2018 and comparatively little movement in the ranking order.

  • #1 – Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach (—)
  • #2 – New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island (—)
  • #3 – Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk (+2)


This analysis examines Fidelity Charitable donors in the top 30 U.S. metropolitan areas of donor activity by the percentage of local Giving Accounts that recommend grants to nonprofits across eight philanthropic sectors: arts and culture, education, environment and animals, health, human services, international affairs, religion and society benefit. The data for the report was obtained from Fidelity Charitable’s internal reporting database and looks at Fidelity Charitable activity in calendar year 2018.

For additional detail on reporting methodology and to read the complete analysis and download the ranking, visit 2019 Geography of Giving.

About Fidelity Charitable

Fidelity Charitable is an independent public charity that has helped donors support more than 278,000 nonprofit organizations with more than $35 billion in grants. Established in 1991, Fidelity Charitable launched the first national donor-advised fund program. The mission of the organization is to grow the American tradition of philanthropy by providing programs that make charitable giving accessible, simple and effective. For more information about Fidelity Charitable, visit

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