City skyline at sunset

Ranking the top cities for giving

Where you live influences how you give. The 2019 rankings of top cities for support by charitable giving sector reveal more about each region’s philanthropic identity, which is shaped by a variety of factors such as demographics, education levels, economic factors, environment, historical events and current dynamics affecting the area. These are all important drivers of the way giving choices differ by city—which in turn offers a glimpse into the priorities, concerns and aspirations of donors across the country. 

These lists take a closer look at grants in 2018 to public charities across eight philanthropic sectors: arts and culture, education, environment and animals, health, human services, international affairs, religion and society benefit. Within each, Fidelity Charitable’s 30 largest metropolitan areas—which all have 700 or more Giving Accounts—are ranked by the percentage of local Giving Accounts that recommend grants to nonprofits in that sector. To zoom in on the various forces at work, we profiled regional differences through the lens of each charitable sector.

Arts & culture

Nearly one third of all Giving Accounts sent support to an organization in the arts and culture sector—the organizations that feed the mind and soul through creativity and artistic expression. 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.

Grantmaking to public media comprises a significant portion of total giving to arts and culture—and fuels the cities who rank in giving to this sector. A local public media organization was the most popular local nonprofit in seven of the 10 metropolitan areas in the arts and culture rankings. Among them were popular San Francisco station KQED and New York Public Radio, which produces award-winning traditional radio and innovative, popular podcasts.

Education

Giving to institutions like universities, libraries and literacy programs makes education one of the most popular sectors among Fidelity Charitable donors. Many of the top cities for giving to this sector have populations that are both highly educated and wealthy, which are the top predictors of charitable support to education. The areas ranked for education are also home to many top universities—particularly those located in the northeast. All of these factors add up to make the rankings for the education sector the most stable and consistent from year to year—with no new metropolitan areas entering the rankings in 2018. And it’s 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. 

Environment & animals

In 2018, one quarter of Giving Accounts recommended grants to organizations working on issues affecting the environment and animals, such as land and water conservation and animal rescue. 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.

Metro areas in the northwest dot the top 10 rankings, with Portland moving four spots to second on the list. 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. 

Health

Nearly 44,000 Giving Accounts recommended a grant to a health-related charity, hospital or research organization in 2018—a 23 percent year-over-year increase. These grant dollars largely supported 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. Donors also responded to current events and a tense political climate with their grant dollars, demonstrated by their strong support of Planned Parenthood nationally and on lists of top local nonprofits in many metropolitan areas.

It is no surprise that Boston maintained its place at the top of the list for giving to the health sector, with 59 percent of Giving Accounts in the area recommending a grant to a health-related organization. The city has a proud history of excellence in healthcare as the home to many renowned healthcare and research centers. Baltimore also made a splash in health giving, new to the rankings at sixth place—pushing Denver from the top 10 list.

Human services

Human services organizations get to the heart of what generosity means to many donors: helping vulnerable populations through charities working to address issues like homelessness, food insecurity and disaster relief. More than half of all Giving Accounts made a grant recommendation to a human services charity, making it the most popular charitable sector in 2018.

Cleveland took the top spot in giving to human services charities, with 63 percent of Giving Accounts in the area supporting the sector. Several cities—Seattle, Charlotte, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.—were new to the rankings, influenced by a variety of issues and events affecting those local communities. For example, giving to human services in Charlotte was fueled by disaster relief efforts related to Hurricanes Florence and Michael. And the government shutdown beginning in December 2018 drove a surge in giving to human services charities in Washington, D.C. to help furloughed federal workers. These cities pushed Providence, Denver, Detroit and Austin from the rankings.

International affairs

Twenty-eight percent of Giving Accounts nationwide made grant recommendations to charities in the international affairs sector, such as international relief and human rights organizations. Giving in this sector is generally influenced by current events, like the ongoing humanitarian and refugee crises in Yemen, Myanmar and Sudan.

Metropolitan areas that have more global and diverse populations tend to be the strongest supporters of organizations in the international affairs sector—and it was no different in 2018. As a center for global politics and advocacy, it is no surprise that Washington, D.C. moved to take the top spot on the rankings. International cities like New York and San Jose are also in the rankings, along with newcomers Philadelphia and Miami—which edged San Diego and Boston out of the rankings. 

Religion

With 77 percent of Americans identifying as religious1, faith plays an important role in the daily lives of many donors. More than half of all Giving Accounts recommended a grant to a religious charity or house of worship in 2018—demonstrating just how important religion can be in donors’ philanthropic decisions. 

The religion sector is a powerful illustration of regional identities manifesting themselves through philanthropy. Cities in the South and Midwest dominate the rankings, and the list was one of the most consistent from 2017. St. Louis maintained its first place ranking, while Houston and Indianapolis saw significant jumps to second and third place. While no cities dropped off the rankings in 2018, Salt Lake City—headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—did see a significant drop to ninth place. 

Society benefit

Thirty-eight percent of Giving Accounts sent support to an organization in the society benefit sector in 2018, including organizations dealing with volunteerism, civil rights and social advocacy. Organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union are popular charities in this sector. And local chapters of the Jewish Federation appear on the list of top 10 local nonprofits in many metropolitan areas—including the top two cities that rank for giving in this sector, Miami and New York. 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.

1Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life, Religious Landscape Study

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