Affluent Washington is skinflint city when it comes to raising funds for local causes, ranking last in philanthropic resources among seven metropolitan areas across the nation studied for a report issued yesterday by the Greater Washington Research Center.
The Washington area placed last in local foundation assets and grants, last in the presence of major corporations, last in corporate giving, last in giving to the United Way and fifth in per capita individual charitable deductions filed with the IRS, the study found.
"There never has been an ethic of giving in this community as in other communities," said Mallory Walker, chairman of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation and head of a group of local foundations that commissioned the study. "Many of Washington's residents don't think of it as home."
The study was released to coincide with the annual meeting here of the Council on Foundations, and was said to be the first study of its kind. Walker said it will be used to refine fund-raising strategy here and to make the case that local causes need more support.
The other metropolitan areas studied were Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Dallas/Fort Worth, Minneapolis/St. Paul and San Francisco/Oakland. Minneapolis/St. Paul and Cleveland were selected because they have strong traditions of philanthropy and the others because they are similar in size and are geographically dispersed.
One of the principal findings of the study was that, although the Washington area has a slightly higher overall average income than any of the six other areas, this area is lacking in the super-rich who give substantial amounts for philanthropic purposes, said Joan Maxwell, director of the research project.
The findings indicate Washington ranks fourth in total assets held by the nation's richest people, as measured by the "Forbes 400" listing in Forbes magazine. In addition, the report said that among those who reported adjusted gross incomes over $60,000 to the IRS, the average income level of Washington area residents ranked lowest. That is to say, the rich here are numerous but less rich.
Maxwell compared the wealth of Washington area residents to an alluvial plain, silted high with income but basically flat. "There are not mountains," she said. "There really aren't many foothills. In Dallas/Fort Worth you have the Alps."
The low number of large personal fortunes is matched by a comparatively low number of foundations associated with those fortunes, the study showed.
Moreover, much of the giving to nonprofit organizations goes to national and international causes, not local ones. The study shows that of every dollar given to nonprofit organizations here, just eight cents goes to such organizations with a locally oriented purpose.
"We find that the rich folks have relatively small-value foundations, and they have zip foundations that focus on the local area," Maxwell said. "In other areas, people focus on the home community, while here in Washington we live next to somebody who works for OMB, or somebody who is working on 'Star Wars,' so we don't think so much about local community."
Equally sticky is the absence of many major corporate headquarters here. Walker said raising funds from corporate branch offices historically has not been a rewarding enterprise, partly because large companies say they make their charitable donations in the cities where they manufacture goods or where they have headquarters.
James Shannon, chairman of the board of the Council on Foundations, said at a press conference announcing the study's release that corporate fund-raising succeeds best in areas where companies have "a longstanding historical tradition of involvement."
Referring to Minneapolis and Cleveland, he said, there is "a categorical imperative that if you are a newcomer here you have both an onus and a bonus of contributing to that community."
Walker observed that too many companies and partnerships doing business in Washington acknowledge only the bonus part of the equation.
Reaction to the report among the fund-raising community was mixed.
Steve Delfin, a spokesman for United Way of America, said, "In total the research center report does paint an accurate picture. To say that Washington flunks the philanthropic resources test -- yes, it does, if the only cities you are looking at are the seven in the test. Our data shows that . . . if you picked a broader sampling, I think you'd find that Washington would be positioned more favorably."
Harriet Ivey, director for the Arena Stage Endowment Campaign, said, "I think those conclusions are something that most people who have been involved in fund-raising in the city for local and institutional causes have felt for a long time. It's not new. It just verifies what experience has led us to conclude."
Calvin Rolark, president of the United Black Fund, said, however, that his organization has experienced substantial annual growth in its fund-raising efforts. "Proportionally speaking, I think Washington . . . has fared well."
One area not addressed by the study is benefits received by the local area from the federal government. Maxwell and Walker said some potential donors believe local Washington causes don't need support because they already get plenty from the federal government.
In an appendix, the report said, "Determining the value of national services to local area residents can only be estimated at best, and there is obviously no easy way to compare the value of such services to those received in other metropolitan areas."