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Financial Planning > Charitable Giving

How Different US Cities Give Differently: Fidelity Charitable

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Not all charitably minded American households and individuals have the same giving priorities. A study released Tuesday by Fidelity Charitable, a donor-advised fund sponsor, found a big difference in the types of causes supported in different areas of the U.S.

Researchers analyzed 2018 giving data from 30 metropolitan areas to understand the full landscape of American philanthropy, how the priorities, concerns and values of donors across the country stacked up. Cities were ranked by percentage of Fidelity Charitable giving accounts that supported a given sector in a region.

The study found that surges and drops in its metro area rankings were often tied to how donors responded to news-making topics in their communities, noting that giving is strongly focused on local issues and concerns.

Take human services, which is the most heavily supported sector among Fidelity Charitable donors, according to the study. Four new cities entered the top 10 — Seattle; Charlotte, North Carolina; Philadelphia; and Washington, D.C. — as donors responded to natural disasters.

Portland, Oregon, rose to second place in the ranking for supporting the environment-and-animals sector. This was perhaps not surprising as the media focused on a landmark lawsuit — Juliana v. United States — filed in Oregon by 21 students against the federal government over its climate change policies.

And the nation’s capital surged in the international affairs sector ranking, influenced by world events, such as the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the administration’s immigration policies at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the study.

The study noted that 49% of all grant dollars recommended by Fidelity Charitable account holders were sent to nonprofits within the donor’s home state in 2018. On average, 42% of grant dollars stayed in the donor’s local metropolitan area.

“As the nation’s largest grant maker, we seek to understand the complete landscape of American giving — the priorities, concerns and values of donors across the country — to create a better-informed donor community,” Fidelity Charitable’s president, Pamela Norley, said in a statement.

Charitable Sectors

By examining the eight charitable sectors defined by the Internal Revenue Service, Fidelity Charitable’s analysis highlighted philanthropic identities for the country’s different regions.

Support for education was particularly strong in the Northeast, religious organizations ranked high in the South and Midwest and the West was disproportionately prominent in its support of the environment and animals. Cities with a more global perspective were active in the international affairs sector.

Here are some of the study’s findings for each charitable sector.

Arts & Culture

Support for organizations like museums, arts programs and public broadcasting services continued to be strong, with Portland and Boston taking the top spots. Cleveland — an underestimated destination for the arts, according to the study — pushed Chicago out of the rankings for the 10th spot.


Rankings for the education sector, including nonprofits such as schools and universities, literacy and after-school programs and libraries, are the most stable and consistent from year to year, according to the study. Bridgeport, Connecticut; Boston; and New York City, with their proximity to globally recognized universities, captured the top three spots in the rankings.

Environment & Animals

Support for this sector in 2018 increased by 24% year over year in the number of Fidelity Charitable giving accounts recommending grants to environmental organizations — the largest increase of any charitable sector. Boston and Portland occupied the top spots, while Providence, Rhode Island, fell to fourth behind San Francisco.


Grants to health-related charities, hospitals or research outfits in 2018 increased by 23% year over year, driven primarily by support of prominent organizations that address tough global health challenges, such as the American Cancer Society, the Alzheimer’s Association and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Boston held onto its top spot on the health sector list.

Human Services

Human services is the most popular charitable sector among Fidelity Charitable donors nationwide, according to the study. Donors in the Cleveland area took the region to the top of the sector ranking, supporting food banks, homeless shelters and youth programs. New cities in the ranking were Seattle, Charlotte, North Carolina, Philadelphia and Washington.

International Affairs

According to the study, support for charities such as international development, relief and human rights organizations is generally influenced by current events, like the ongoing humanitarian and refugee crises in Myanmar, Sudan and Yemen. As a center for global politics and advocacy, Washington moved up the rankings to first place for support of international affairs organizations, unseating New York.


Religion is among the most popular charitable sectors among Fidelity Charitable donors nationwide, who support churches, synagogues and temples. St. Louis maintained its place at the top of the list for giving to the religion sector in 2018, followed closely by Houston and Indianapolis, which jumped from the fifth and sixth spots.

Society Benefit

Miami donors have long been strong supporters of this sector, which includes civil rights, community improvement, social advocacy and volunteer organizations. The metro area maintained its top spot in the rankings for the fourth year running.

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