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The Business of Giving

Exploring philanthropy, non-profits and socially motivated business, from the Gates Foundation to your donation. A fresh look at the economy of good intentions.

June 10, 2009 at 4:42 PM

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As U.S. charitable giving declines, Seattle sets roadmap

Posted by Kristi Heim

Charitable giving in the U.S. fell 2 percent in 2008 to about $307 billion, but the decline was not as sharp as expected, considering the economic downturn, according to the Giving Institute. The results were part of an annual report on philanthropy that the institute released today.

The last time the U.S. saw a drop in overall giving was in 1987.

Among the findings:


  • Philanthropy accounted for 2.2 percent of the the U.S. GDP, and individual donors accounted for 75 percent of all charitable giving.

  • Giving to religion increased 5.5. percent, and religion received the largest share of contributions (35 percent).

  • Giving to public-society benefit organizations rose 5.4 percent, a category that includes the United Way and groups engaged in voter registration.

  • Giving to international affairs organizations rose 0.6 percent, slowing considerably from the 16.1 percent increase in 2007.

  • The largest decline in giving (12.7 percent) was in human services, yet 54 percent of human service organizations saw an increase in demand.

  • Foundation grant-making increased 3 percent, while giving from corporations and corporate foundations fell 4.5 percent (the largest decline among categories of donors).

What should Seattle do to make sure philanthropy here is as effective as possible? The Seattle Foundation came out with its own (very long) report last week that sets out a kind of road map for the region.

The person leading that drive will be named tomorrow when the foundation will announce a new CEO to replace Phyllis Campbell, who left in March to become chairman of JPMorgan Chase's Pacific Northwest business.

The foundation has identified strategies for a healthy community, from increasing affordable housing to restoring Puget Sound to supporting low-income entrepreneurs.

The report lists specific goals, ways people can help and more than a dozen local organizations working in each category. It also profiles people and organizations doing interesting work.

In real estate, for example, Windermere 's CoHo Team donates one-third of their commissions to support community development and affordable housing.

In South Seattle, the Got Green project and the Moontown Foundation are organizing young people of color to help weatherize low-income homes in the city.

In a forum at City Club, Crosscut publisher David Brewster seemed to put his finger on the pulse of Seattle philanthropy when he suggested that adding some "entrepreneurial garage culture" to non-profits could release their creativity.

Blending "Seattle's entrepreneurial genius and its humanitarian civic-mindedness creates an interesting chemical reaction," he said.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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