Dec. 18, 2017 12:56 pm

A citywide culture of giving could bring an extra billion dollars to Philly

Yes, billion. Here's how to cultivate a more philanthropic Philadelphia.

Philadelphia’s skyline from the Spring Garden Street Bridge.

(Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia)

I’ve spent my entire fundraising career in Philadelphia, and I love what I do.

I see people coming together in our community to do great things day in and day out. Sure, fundraising can be stressful, but seeing the collective impact of philanthropy in Philadelphia day in and day out is well worth it.

However, I’ve seen some stats lately that have really challenged my view of how well we’re doing, really, when it comes to giving back in Philly.

First, the Chronicle of Philanthropy released its annual report on “Giving in the 50 Largest Cities” based on 2015 tax data:

  • Philadelphia is the sixth largest city in the U.S. by population.
  • When ranked by the percentage of income given to charitable causes, Philly’s 2.5 percent puts us at 43 out of 50.
  • Our average giving of $4,430 per person is 44 out of 50.

I know, I know, we have a high poverty rate in Philadelphia (25.8 percent). But Detroit (35.7 percent), Baltimore (24 percent), and Memphis (26.9 percent) all have high poverty rates as well, and yet:

From our Partners

  • Detroit gives at a rate of 2.8 percent of overall income, and the average gift is $4,700.
  • Baltimore gives at a rate of 3 percent of overall income, and the average gift is $4,675.
  • Memphis gives at a rate of 5.6 percent of overall income, and the average gift is $9,329.

If Philadelphians gave at the national average, the Chronicle of Philanthropy estimates that we’d raise an additional $966 million each year.

Then, to add insult to injury, the Financial Health of Philadelphia-Area Nonprofits report was released, which was funded by The Philadelphia Foundation. And the Philly nonprofit industry is seriously not doing well. One snippet: Over 40 percent have net operating margins of zero or less and fewer than 40 percent of nonprofits can be characterized as financially strong. I’ll let you read the rest of the unpleasant news yourself.

First, let me just say: Please, no more reports on philanthropy in Philadelphia in the near future. Please. 2017 has been hard enough and we all just want to get through the holidays with minimal stress and lots of baked goods. At least, I know I do.

That said, we can fix this! Philadelphia has a giving problem, and the answer is to build a culture of philanthropy within the city.

“Culture of philanthropy” is a common phrase for us fundraisers, one of those jargon-y terms like move the needle, thought leadership and low-hanging fruit that we’re sick of hearing on repeat in the industry.

Basically, a culture of philanthropy is your organization or family’s attitude toward giving back to the community. And if we can build a culture of philanthropy within an organization or family, why not build a culture of philanthropy within a city?

It’s such a huge idea that it’s hard to even know where to start, and no one solution exists for turning Philadelphia from the City of Brotherly Love to the City of Philanthropic Giving (though, local millionaires, please step up a little harder than the rest of us). But you’ve got to start somewhere, so here are some things we can do as individuals:

Stop pointing out all of the problems.

The media is often quick to report on the bad things, presumably because that’s what gets clicks. So let’s change that. Pay attention to the successes and the good things that nonprofits are doing all across the city and beyond. Change the message by celebrating the positive and sharing it with your networks.

Reading Generocity (hi!) is a great first step, but there are so many other things to pay attention to in your everyday life:

  • The vibrant Mural Arts murals we pass every day during the commute to work, which provide project-based learning opportunities for thousands of youth and adults.
  • Look to see if your favorite restaurant participates in Dining Out for Life to support Action Wellness, an organization that helps over 4,000 clients each year facing chronic illnesses.
  • The Back on My Feet volunteers that pass you on your street while you walk the dog in the morning. Full disclosure, this author has volunteered with BoMF’s Team Center City since September, and I’ve never met a group of such warm, caring and dedicated people who also manage to be friendly at 5:30 a.m.

Make a point of educating yourself and your network.

Before I worked for an organization that supports homeless and foster care youth, I had some negative thoughts about people experiencing homelessness. And I was so, so wrong. Almost 80 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, which means that many of us are just one small crisis away from losing our homes.

Had I not worked with Valley Youth House, I wouldn’t have learned about the many hardworking, amazing folks in the city who are experiencing homelessness because of one unlucky circumstance, or the community can help them get back on their feet.

So, take the time to learn. Read about what nonprofits in the city are doing to support refugees, immigrants, food-insecure families, prisoners reentering society and other marginalized populations. Understand how we can show compassion rather than judgement. And then share that with your kids. Your parents. Your coworkers. Your friends. Your neighbors. The friendly trolley driver. Anyone. Everyone.

Give, give, give.

Philanthropy doesn’t mean that you’re giving away thousands of dollars per year, or that your name gets thrown around as often as Bill Gates or Oprah does. (Seriously, do not suggest to your fundraiser friends that they just ask Oprah. Please. You might be surprised to learn that we hear this from everyone, all the time, and it doesn’t make it any easier to walk into Oprah’s house and ask her for a donation).

Philanthropy means you are making voluntary actions towards the common good. There are so many ways to give back, whether it’s money, time, talent or treasure. As long as you’re matching your interests with the needs of your chosen nonprofit, you’re golden.

A $5 monthly recurring donation is as easy as going without your favorite latte or breakfast sandwich once a month. And the result is your favorite charity gets $60 per year. And, let’s be real, did you actually need the latte, or just want it? #NewYearNewYou.

Spending a few hours volunteering, donating those work clothes you bought last year and then never wore, or simply listening to your seatmate on the bus who is having a hard time — it all helps to cultivate a culture of philanthropy.


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