Geography, Charity and Competitive Advantage

Source: "The State of the Region: Hampton Roads 2015"
Source: “The State of the Region: Hampton Roads 2015”

by James A. Bacon

I had always thought that Virginians were more charitably inclined on average than other Americans, but apparently that’s not the case. Data published in Old Dominion University’s “State of the Region: Hampton Roads 2015” report indicate that Virginians give a considerably smaller percentage of their income to charity (presumably as measured by itemized charitable deductions in tax filings) than do Americans overall. Hampton Roads residents buck the trend, contributing significantly more than the state average of 2.85% of income — though still below the national average of 3.7%.

“It is certainly notable that Portsmouth, a city whose residents are much less prosperous financially, nonetheless more than doubled Loudoun County in terms of the percentage of residents’ income given to charitable endeavors,” states the report, whose lead author is ODU President Emeritus James V. Koch. “This suggests a degree of anomie and lack of identification of Loudoun County residents with their surroundings.”

Koch raises an interesting point. I would go a step further and suggest a hypothesis that Koch, who has amassed an enormous database of local- and metropolitan-level statistics, perhaps could test: The longer people have lived in an area and the more they have sunk their roots there, the more likely they are to contribute philanthropically. Many of Loudoun County’s residents are newcomers who have yet to develop strong ties to their communities. To cast that statement in the form of a testable hypothesis, I would predict a strong correlation between the average length of residence and the rate of migration in and out of a locality and/or a metropolitan region and the proclivity of the population to give to charity. That is not the only factor influencing the rate of giving, but it would be an important one.

By this logic, the charity-mindedness of Hampton Roads actually may be understated. Because the region’s largest industry is the military, which rotates a significant percentage of the population in and out  with great regularity, the population of long-term residents has a lot of slack to take up.

The report also publishes a list of largest Virginia-based charitable organizations, ranked by 2012 grants. The largest are national in scope, such as the NRA Foundation and the Freddie Mac Foundation. But of those that are primarily local in scope, Hampton Roads leads the pack. Leading the way is the Batten family, associated with three different foundations that dispensed more than $30 million in 2012. All told, eight of the state’s 40 largest foundations are located in Hampton Roads.

“State of the Region” pays particular attention to the South Hampton Roads United Way and whether the multitude of programs it oversees could be more efficiently funded.

The United Way’s review of funding candidates is unquestionably laudable; however, the consensus in the charitable world is that analogous programs need to be in place to provide additional ongoing monitoring and guidance for existing charitable organizations that have long been around. Such organizations can get stuck in a rut operationally and lose their energy and efficiency. It is not easy to scrutinize existing charities, but it is an important task that directly affects the eventual impact of the United Way.

Bacon’s bottom line:

 More attention needs to be given to the role and influence of philanthropy and not-for-profits in the study of U.S. metropolitan areas — not just to their operational efficiency but to how well they advance a community’s strategic goals. To grow the economy, raise the standard of living, make the community attractive to newcomers, and address the needs of the less fortunate requires collective action over and above what government can do. From my observations of the Richmond area, there is a relatively stable “philanthropic capacity” — a sum of money that corporations and affluent individuals are willing to donate over the course of a year. How much money a community raises and how it dispenses that money — either to present-oriented projects such as supporting cultural institutions and helping the poor, or to future-oriented projects such as investing in universities, medical facilities and economic development — shapes the region for better or worse.

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22 responses to “Geography, Charity and Competitive Advantage”

  1. Did the report cover the percentage of the population in a community who actually contributed something to a charity, regardless of the percentage of their income?

    My gut tells me Portsmouth also would fare well by this metric. They have lots of churches per capita.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    One of the things you find out when you do volunteer taxes for the elderly and low income is just how much of their meager income gets donated to their neighborhood churches – for which they get no credit because they do not owe taxes and/or they don’t have enough other deductions to be able to claim itemized deductions.

    The primary determinant is the mortgage interest and real estate taxes.

    if they don’t own a home or they’ve paid it off – even if they’ve donated thousands of dollars to “charity” they get no credit for it…

    My suspects are that low income folks are far more generous to their long-time neighborhood churches…than folks of means living in high dollar homes… in upscale neighborhoods …. whose deductions to Charity have the financial benefit of lowering their tax liability.

    If we took away the deduction for charity – what would happen? the folks who can’t claim it would go on donating.

    As always simplistic data slices can convey wrong impressions at times.

  3. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

    Loudon gives less as a percentage of income because Loudon is home to richer people than Portsmouth and richer people give less of their income to charity in general than poor people ( because rich people are awful and most don’t have a pro-social bone in their body.

    Instead of trying to figure out why they suck and what we can do to have them throw a few more table scraps to charitable actions we know are good social programs let’s just take that money from them in taxes and give it to the social programs directly. No fuss, no muss, no hand wringing about what’s to be done.

    1. I hope your seriously charitable self will join me in this charity. As this news piece documents I put in $25,000 last month. That was matched by Christian Relief Services. Hopefully you’ll be able to do the same.

      As an aside, I set up this charitable foundation in response to a blog posting on Bacons Rebellion.

      1. LOFL – Since I am an operator of the charity I will be monitoring the web site for your donation. You can certainly donate to schools in your locality if you would like. In 30 days I will post a mainline blog article documenting your contribution or lack thereof. Given your willingness to insult an entire county full of people the least I can do is document your personal charitable giving. My guess is that you’re just another liberal asshat who is long on insult and short on action. Here’s your chance to prove me wrong.

        1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

          1) I already give to charity, volunteer and take in foster children. Just because my ego isn’t so tiny I need to trumpet that fact doesn’t mean it’s not happening. I aspire to Maimonides’ eight levels of giving and while I’m not in a position to give anyone a job right now, I believe true charity is given anonymously. I’m not going to break that to prove a point to Bacon’s Rebellion’s insecure rageaholic.

          2) I didn’t insult an entire county of people. They insulted themselves by giving less of themselves than the far poorer people in Portsmouth. I also tied it to their wealth not their geographic location, but I know as a member of Northern Virginia you have a permanent poutrage on about your region being so disrespected that makes your misread things sometimes.

          2A) Maybe I’m wrong about it being a class thing, Bacon and his ilk like to view everything through a racial-cultural lens, and Loudon also has far fewer Black people than Portsmouth…what is it about white culture that makes it so selfish? What is it about Black culture that makes it so charitable? Can we get 2,000 words about that Bacon?

          3) Once again principled independent DonR results to broadly smearing liberals after just getting in his feelings at what he perceived as someone insulting a county. That’s good consistency. Also, once again someone on this blog felt the need to call me names. Amazing how frequently that happens.

          4) Nothing you said at all undermined my point, but I hope you enjoyed your tantrum.

      2. Sounds like a great charity, Don. Write a blog post for the Rebellion.

        1. It is a great charity and two Democratic politicians – Scott Surrovell and Paul Krizek (both graduates of the same high school from which I graduated) were crucial in setting up the charity. Surrovell is a Virginia delegate now running for state senate and Krizek is running for Surrovell’s delegate seat. I expect both to win and I would vote for both of them if I still lived in their districts.

          My comments aimed at LOFL may have been over the top in retrospect. I am always amazed at people who are long on words and short on action. I call it the “Jefferson – Washington paradox”. People in Virginia love Thomas Jefferson. The Imperial clown Show in Richmond will only speak of “Mr. Jefferson”. Yet it was George Washington who won the war, brokered peace among the founding fathers, founded the country and put America on a path to greatness. Since the man of action was from Fairfax County he wasn’t a “real Virginian” in the pea brained minds of some. So a poet is revered while a warrior is ignored. Such is the stupidity of The Old Dominion.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    One of the things that motivate some people to give to charity is cost effectiveness – and efficiency of the charity.

    Truth is – if you go to Charity Tracker – you’ll find more than a few rated pretty low… they have a lot of overhead and well paid staff and much fewer dollars actually make it to the folks they profess to help.

    some are outright scams and some are truly what I call “feel good” organizations.

    Good charities have to be lean and mean – and coordinate with other charities so as to not double-cover or duplicate services.

    I know a Church that has a thrift shop and picks up furniture and most anything else – from folks who are replacing things, moving, having a yard sale (and the leftovers to the church.

    The Church then sells the stuff for literally pennies on the dollar – which is a great benefit to lower income folks who need things for their family.

    That money for sold items then goes to buy overstock/date ended/other food for 19 cents a pound. The 19 cents cover the collection and warehouse costs of the Food Bank and the 19 cent food is then bagged as groceries and passed out to verified need recipients.

    some of the recipients actually help the pantry handing out the food.

    It’s a very efficient and cost effective operation… and I’d like to see more charities squeeze a dollar the same way.

  5. Well, I for one am impressed by what Christian Relief Services is doing on the digital-divide issue. DonR certainly has prodded them and we all need to help: the problem is far greater than just Fairfax County. As information technology spreads, the kids need access to the internet. Moreover, many of them still grow up with parents who don’t appreciate the value of IT or the different employment world their kids are growing into, and not a few classrooms whose teachers don’t know how to tap the power of that resource, either.

    We talk about what government can and cannot, should and should not, do. Well, one thing it can do and is often tasked with in this country is basic infrastructure, like roads and sewers. Public utilities do a lot of the rest, like water and electricity and some communications services like landline telephone. I see no reason we shouldn’t expect that government/utility model to cover a basic infrastructure service like access to the Internet. Whether it’s through installing city-wide wifi as some localities have experimented with, or subsidizing cable or satellite internet service where it exists, or where it doesn’t, just underwriting expanded computer labs for families in the local library — access to the internet is not a luxury any longer but an essential part of our way of life. Thank you, DonR, for stepping up personally to do something about it. I throw it out there as a challenge, we should be pressing local government and State government to make internet access universal. As LOFL so kindly put it, “let’s just take that money from them in taxes and give it to the social programs directly.”

    On the larger question of different rates of charitable giving, I don’t think it’s so much rootedness (or lack of it as in Loudoun) as what’s captured in LarryG’s observation “My [suspicion is] that low income folks are far more generous to their long-time neighborhood churches…than folks of means living in high dollar homes… in upscale neighborhoods …. whose deductions to Charity have the financial benefit of lowering their tax liability.” People who have seen hard times but stabilized their own lives know how much others need the help. Some of us suburbanites forget what things were like for our grandparents when everybody had it tough.

  6. I would add that Don fits my model as an individual with deep roots in the community getting involved and donating generously. Unlike a majority of Northern Virginians, Don has lived there pretty much his entire life and has strong attachments.

    1. Scott Surovell and Paul Krizek did a lot more than I did. I sent Scott an e-mail with the idea and he met me shortly thereafter. He lined up Christian Relief Services for the match. Paul worked with the administration at Bucknell Elementary and organized the vendors. Scott set up the Channel 9 interview with Peggy Fox to try to get some more attention (and additional donations).

      People like Scott Surovell and Paul Krizek may eventually convince me to drop my knickname for our state legislature.

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    I honor Don. I don’t have Don’s wealth but if I did, I’d do something similar.

    so I volunteer my time to help those who need food and tax services…and a couple of other things.. like donating (much, much smaller amounts than Don) to VPAP, Red Cross, local Homeless Shelter, etc.

    I HAVE noticed when I do taxes that people with barely enough to live on – do donate money to their church and locality – even when they themselves cannot afford medical care…. it humbles me.

  8. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Someone ought to write a book on charity – its various kinds and varieties. The places from where it springs. The motives and intents behind it. The results achieved – their varieties and consequences.

    For example, the charity of money donated or of one’s time given.

    Or the power of a random smile given to a stranger or one’s wife, and the radiation its grace.

    Or the multiplier effect over time of a single small act freely given. Say that of a single seed that Johnny long ago in a far away place tossed into the wind. What’s its value now? How far has its gifts spread over how many?

    I once spent a year on crutches. I learned a lot during that year. Things like who gave the gift of charity and grace, and who didn’t. Lawyers came in dead last, most always by a country mile. Women scrubbing floors came in first most always, and they had to get off their knees. That is telling.

    Or consider other small every day things, tips for example – how often we or many of us figure them to the penny, by formula. There is a rationale. But why always? Might there not be some particularity needed under the many instances encountered. Why not consider each waiter or waitress. The one standing right in front of us, working hard and well on our behalf while we share the same air, time and place. At least we might add in a smile, if only to acknowledge their presence, and our respect for it.

    Respect – the greatest gift of all – seems to be vanishing in many places.

  9. Paul Rubenstein grew up in Baltimore, went to law school in Chicago and practiced law in New York until moving to the DC area to found The Carlysle Group. From Wikipedia, here are some of his philanthropic efforts:

    Rubenstein is among the group of American billionaires who have pledged to donate more than half of their wealth to philanthropic causes or charities as part of The Giving Pledge.

    He has made large gifts to Duke University, the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Chicago Law School.

    He was elected to the Board of Trustees of the University of Chicago on May 31, 2007.

    On December 18, 2007, David Rubenstein purchased the last privately owned copy of the Magna Carta at Sotheby’s auction house in New York for $21.3 million.[12] He has lent it to the National Archives in Washington D.C.[13] In 2011, Rubenstein gave $13.5 million to the National Archives for a new gallery and visitor’s center.

    Rubenstein was elected Chairman of the Board of the Kennedy Center, Washington, DC, starting in May 2010. He is Vice Chairman of the Board of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York, and chairman of its fundraising drive. A new atrium was named for him.[15] He is on the board of regents of the Smithsonian Institution.

    In December 2011, Rubenstein donated $4.5 million to the National Zoo for its giant panda reproduction program.[17] The panda complex was then named the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat for the next five years and conservation biologists in the U.S. and China who are awarded National Zoo fellowships for their work to save pandas would be named “David M. Rubenstein Fellows.”[18] Another $4.5 million was donated in September of 2015, about four weeks after a male giant panda cub was born.

    In 2012, he donated $7.5 million towards the repair of the Washington Monument.

    In 2013, he donated $50 million to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which is being used for 65,000 square foot addition.

    In April 2013, he donated $10 million to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which will be used to rebuild at least two buildings in the slave community on Mulberry Row at Monticello. The funds will also be used to restore Jefferson’s original road scheme, restore the second and third stories of Jefferson’s home which are currently mostly empty, and replace infrastructure.

    In November 2013, he bought a copy of the Bay Psalm Book for $14.1 million, the highest price ever paid for a printed book, and pledged to lend it to public collections and exhibitions around the world.

    There are a lot of people in the DC area who donate considerable amounts of time and money to charities.

  10. I tend to follow the idea that Charity Begins At Home. Which is why a good part of my income is devoted to encouraging my now adult rug rats to stay off the government teat. Isn’t it better they bum from me instead of you?

    My wife however prefers to support priests.

    1. I do agree with this. As the old saying goes, “If everyone swept their front door stoop, the whole world would be clean.”

      But everyone doesn’t, and the world isn’t clean. So, we have to sweep the door stoops of others. I respect Don R. for his philanthropy, I respect LOTFL for taking in foster children, and I respect Larry G. for helping people with their taxes. My wife and I try to help by giving small amounts of money and time, although, hewing to Darrell’s philosophy, our energies are consumed primarily by raising the last of three children. When we retire, our goal is to be more active in the community. The trick is finding something whereby we can make a meaningful difference, which we haven’t done yet.

      I see charity/philanthropy/volunteerism in a life-cycle contest. Unless you’re especially successful financially, which I have not been (or particularly tried to be), one’s main focus is on raising/educating their children and putting something aside from retirement. But it has always been my thought, and my wife’s, that we would contribute a lot more once those responsibilities were behind us. John Martin and Matt Thornhill with the Boomer Project, who specialize in understanding generational differences, expect a wave of philanthropy and volunteerism as Baby Boomers retire and have the time and resources to contribute more.

      For all of America’s flaws, and they are many, Americans are a generous people. While some regions of the country may give more or less than others, as a nation we collectively give a lot more than, say, the Europeans, whose philosophy is relatively more inclined to the view that taking care of the less fortune is the government’s responsibility.

  11. Jim, I do believe charity to others and raising kids are symbiotic things. There are so many children-focused activities that need our time let alone financial support. Men obviously gravitate to sports and there’s scouting and such, but there’s also volunteering in the schools for classroom assistance and field trips and fundraisers, and lobbying school boards and PTAs, and targeted charity the likes of what Don has identified; our own kids cannot help but absorb the example we set and they will grow up to fix their priorities accordingly. And the benefit has been mutual; I’ve found myself busier in retirement than I ever was in the child-rearing years doing things I discovered I had the talent for during those years, as the result of caring for children through those years.

  12. LarrytheG Avatar

    raising one’s kids is no small feat in today’s world. And precious little training for the task!

  13. Yeah well before my wife started paying priests, she was busy helping put several nieces and nephews through college in the Philippines. It seems to have been a good investment because we get free room and board when we decide to visit. My share is all the San Miguel beer I can drink, which these days adds up to about one bottle a month.

    As far as the paying for praying, let’s just say we have come to a hard won unspoken agreement. Now I could be wrong, but I figure that when we are together in the ground that Light of God should be bright enough to cover both of us.


  14. LarrytheG Avatar

    Darrell has a wonderful ability to keep things in a real-world perspective!

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