PHILANTHROPICALLY speaking, Greater Washington is giving itself short shrift: when matched against six other metropolitan areas, this region comes out lowest in philanthropic resources available to residents. Even the most charitable findings of a study released last week by the Greater Washington Research Center indicate that on the average, individuals as well as businesses and professional partnerships aren't contributing to local causes here in the same proportions as they are elsewhere.
The study doesn't "blame" any particular segment of the region for this philanthropic weakness, nor does it suggest that donations now going to organizations that are more national or international in nature should be redirected homeward. But it does point to groups that could benefit from more specific guidance as to what their "fair shares" in the local philanthropic effort might be.
First, there are myths that haven't helped things. It's true, for example, that Greater Washington has a slightly higher overall average income than the other areas studied; but it does not have a concentration of top-income people and families -- those of great wealth who in other metropolitan areas tend to give heavily to local causes. And those who are here have a lower-than-average identifiable commitment to philanthropy, the study finds, and a still lower commitment to local causes.
It is also true that some people who live here -- diplomats, top government officials and military personnel -- have no roots in the region, and that a certain number of others in the area have professional and sentimental interests that are directed elsewhere. But the number of people who have lived here for, say, 20 years or more -- who also may have had children who were born here and are now adults -- has been growing.
What this longtime resident population lacks is a strong corporate presence -- major organizations that have generations of local ties and of generous participation in community affairs. There is another factor: in a region of high average incomes and many attractive neighborhoods both in the city and in the suburbs, the degree of poverty, homelessness and health problems may be somewhat camouflaged; also, the high visibility of government services may overshadow local issues that local contributions should be addressing. All this may explain the low rate of giving here, but it doesn't justify it.