Ranking the top cities for giving

Top 10 lists for each charitable sector reveal how giving priorities vary across the United States

Where you live has an impact on where you give: The 2017 rankings of top cities for support by charitable sector reveal how donor priorities differ across regions in the United States. The lists show that donor support often has a geographic identity as well as a personal one, with the needs and interests that are specific to a metropolitan area frequently reflected in donor grant recommendations.

The information presented in these lists takes a closer look at grants to nonprofits across eight philanthropic sectors: arts and culture, education, environment and animals, health, human services, international affairs and religion. Within each, Fidelity Charitable’s 30 largest metropolitan areas—which all have 400 or more Giving Accounts—are ranked by the percentage of local Giving Accounts that recommend grants to nonprofits in that sector. 

The lists include both large and midsize metropolitan areas and offer a comparison of support among these cities. Geographic differences, as well as demographic profiles, are likely important drivers of the way giving choices differ by city, with governance and economic factors as much an influence as education levels, participation in religious or civic life, and diversity. Although there may be some movement on Fidelity Charitable’s lists of top cities by sector each year, consistency is often the story—and it often tracks a geographic path through the cultural and economic factors, regional infrastructure and environmental surroundings that shape the broad outline of an area’s priorities. Here are profiles of each giving sector.


Education sector represented by an image of a college campus.

Education is the most popular charitable sector for Fidelity Charitable donors nationwide; 54 percent of Giving Accounts support organizations ranging from schools and universities to libraries, literacy and after-school programs. This is a departure from national donor giving, where the greatest amount of support goes to religion. The priority that Fidelity Charitable donors place on education reflects the sector’s influence in their lives, and they give back to the institutions that played a role in their professional success.

Human services

It’s no surprise that human services organizations—nonprofits that provide basic, daily care such as food banks, homeless shelters and youth programs—are popular recipients of donor generosity; for many people who give, these services are synonymous with what it means to be charitable in the United States. Indeed, more than half of Giving Accounts nationally support human-services charities. This year, the Bridgeport, Conn., metropolitan area topped the list of support for the sector, jumping five places from the previous year.


Although it ranks behind education in Giving Account support, religion’s significant role in the daily life of many Americans is strongly reflected in charitable giving—both among donors overall and among Fidelity Charitable donors specifically—as the sector is consistently among the top recipients of support. Many donors use their Giving Account to establish recurring grant recommendations to religious organizations with which they are affiliated, to provide a tithe or other forms of ongoing support.

Support for religion is most prominent among Giving Account holders in the South and the Midwest, from which almost all cities on the top-10 list hail. As with education, the metropolitan areas that provide the strongest support for religion are generally consistent year-after-year, with two notable Midwest exceptions in 2016. Cincinnati bumped Baltimore from the list to debut at No. 8; while Indianapolis took over the top spot from Salt Lake City.


In 2016, 41 percent of Fidelity Charitable donors nationwide supported the health sector. But it was Boston that once again headed the list for charitable support; 58 percent of Giving Accounts in the region supported health-related nonprofits. With the field increasing its focus on collaboration across public and private groups to advance medical research and treatment for disease,1 the Boston area possesses both the professional and infrastructural depth to respond to such trends. The region is home to several large healthcare organizations and teaching-and-research hospitals, including the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Partners HealthCare System, as well as the Pan-Mass Challenge, a Massachusetts-based bike-a-thon for cancer research that enjoys sweeping community participation.

Arts and culture

Arts and culture sector represented by inside a recording studio for public radio.

Almost one-third of Fidelity Charitable donors nationwide provided support to arts-and-culture nonprofits in 2016, and San Francisco and Boston donors continued to lead in support for the sector, ranked numbers one and two, respectively.

Public media plays a prominent role in arts-and-culture grant recommendations. Nine of the top-10 metropolitan areas for Giving Account support in the sector featured a public-media outlet as its highest-ranked arts-and-culture nonprofit; among them: Portland’s Oregon Public Broadcasting, Boston’s public-television-and-radio mainstay WGBH and Miami’s South Florida PBS. In half of the top-10 cities, public-media organizations claim two or three of the most popular arts-and-culture charities receiving support, showing the industry’s popularity in charitable giving.

Environment and animals

Giving to the environment and animals was the fastest-growing charitable cause nationwide in 2016.2 Similarly, the number of Giving Accounts that supported these nonprofits also grew more than any other sector—increasing by 18 percent from 2015 to 2016. Twenty-three percent of Fidelity Charitable donors recommended grants to these causes, which include conservation charities and animal shelters—with land and water conservation claiming more of the giving terrain than any other subsector. Environmental organizations received notable increases in support following the 2016 election, which likely contributed to their overall growth.

San Francisco was again top-ranked among metropolitan areas in 2016, with 30 percent of its donors sending support to environmental and animal charities. Seattle and Baltimore were new on the top-10 list, causing San Diego and Philadelphia to fall from the rankings.

International affairs

Although just more than a quarter of Giving Accounts nationwide currently support international affairs organizations, it remains a fast-growing sector of charitable giving among Fidelity Charitable donors—fueled in 2016 by humanitarian needs in the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. The New York region, one of the most diverse populations in the country, sends more support to international affairs nonprofits than any other metropolitan area. With 34 percent of its Giving Account holders recommending grants to the sector in 2016, New York rose three spots to surpass another international city, Washington, D.C., for the top ranking.

1, 2Giving USA Foundation, “Giving USA 2017: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the year 2016,” 2017.


Want to know how the Northeast compares with the South? Or what are the differences between the West and the Midwest? 

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