Philanthropic giving in Triangle trails other regions, report finds

Charitable giving in the Triangle trails that of comparable metro areas largely because, unlike those communities, the region lacks home-grown corporations, wealth and philanthropic assets, Triangle Community Foundation says.

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, Philanthropy Journal
DURHAM, N.C. — Despite the Triangle's "stunning growth" and emergence as a high-tech, multi-ethnic "city-state," local philanthropy is lagging, a new report says.

Charitable giving in the Triangle trails that of comparable metro areas largely because, unlike those communities, the region lacks home-grown corporations, wealth and philanthropic assets, says the report, "How the Triangle Gives Back."

Also putting a brake on giving is the fragmentation of communities and people within the region, says Robyn Fehrman, community program officer for the Triangle Community Foundation, which co-sponsored the report with North Carolina Public Radio – WUNC.

"As we have grown so significantly and become such a dynamic and diverse place, connection to this place is missing," she says. "When people don't feel connected to the place, it's harder to give to that place."

Prepared by the Program on Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the report represents the first step in a long-term effort to better track and promote the giving of time, know-how and money in the region.

Andrea Bazán, the foundation's president, says the goal is to "engage folks in the Triangle who currently don't see themselves as philanthropists but are already giving back, or those who are not yet engaged in community involvement and who need a vehicle."

While it often ranks among the best places in the United States to live and do business, the report says, the Triangle faces wide gaps in income, and rising costs of living that hurt the poor and the middle class.

Average individual giving in the Triangle trails that of Charlotte, the Triad and North Carolina overall, the report says, and the region "has a rather shallow pool of corporate philanthropy and foundation assets."

But, mirroring national trends, the report says, Triangle residents give more than local grantmakers.

Triangle residents who itemize contributions on their federal tax returns gave $947 million in 2005, for example, and individuals in the region give at least $1 billion a year, and probably much more, to faith organizations.

In comparison, the 417 foundations based in the Triangle gave $1.03 billion from 2000 to 2006, numbers that are low compared with peer metro areas.

Universities help attract substantial funds from foundations outside the region, which is home to 5,433 charitable nonprofits with $29.6 billion in assets and $11.7 billion in annual revenue.

And lacking a lot of big, locally-based corporate headquarters, the Triangle's "corporate-giving structure is less mature and robust than that of older regional economies," the report says.

"People who want to give back, and give back more, need organizational structures to assure that their work pays off to the maximum advantage of those they seek to help," the report says.

Fehrman, who is managing the Triangle Gives Back initiative, says future research will examine giving by age demographics, by communities of color, and by corporations.

In January, based on input from the community, the Triangle Community Foundation will offer recommendations to spur giving and will launch a website.

The Web site, which is being developed by Capstrat and has been launched at with a copy of the report, eventually will let visitors belong to a community of online givers; connect with causes they care about; share ideas and information about local needs and strategies for addressing them; and learn about local nonprofits and volunteer opportunities.

The Triangle Community Foundation is providing roughly $100,000 a year for three years to support Triangle Gives Back, including the research and Web site support.

Based on IRS data, as well as surveys and interviews, the report offers a snapshot of nonprofits and philanthropy in the region. Among its findings:

  • Triangle residents who itemize charitable contributions on their federal tax returns gave $947 million in 2005, or 3.7 percent of their adjusted gross income, with contributions averaging $4,131 per itemizer. In comparison, itemizers' giving averaged $4,439 in the Triad, $4,336 in Charlotte and $4,230 in North Carolina overall.
  • Residents in the Triangle's outlying subdivisions and those with lower incomes give a bigger share of their annual earnings to nonprofits and charitable groups than do residents of the region's wealthiest neighborhoods, which are in or near the centers of its cities and towns.
  • From 2000 to 2006, organizations in the Triangle received $1.65 billion from foundations outside the region, eclipsing 14 peer metro areas in total grant dollars and in the number of outside foundations making grants.
  • Relative to other metro areas, the Triangle ranked last in the grants from foundations outside the region for social and human services. On average, 22.6 percent of grants to other regions supported social and human services, compared with 11.8 percent of grants to the Triangle, while the average metro area received $126 per person to address those needs, compared with $89 per person in the Triangle.
  • Local foundations that give the most each year in the Triangle are the Triangle Community Foundation, $8.6 million; John William Pope Foundation, nearly $5.7 million; Progress Energy Foundation, $3.3 million; Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, $3.3 million; and Stewards Fund, $3.1 million.
  • An estimated 20 corporate foundations are headquartered in the Triangle, and 10 more have a strong presence in the region.
  • Working against a strong base of corporate philanthropy are the fact that many of the Triangle's biggest local businesses serve customers outside the region; many big companies are based in Research Triangle Park, limiting their impact on individual communities; and the entrepreneurial companies in the Triangle lack the stability and quick success that can fuel philanthropic giving.