Opinion: Will Austin Philanthropy Grow Up in 2015?

Photo by DO512

Photo by DO512

As Austin grows up, all signs point to a more generous 2015 and beyond.

If a city’s maturity can be measured by its philanthropy, Austin is still in its partying phase. Consider the rich philanthropic history of Dallas, for example, where leading citizens write big checks for museums, hospitals, shelters, theaters and other cultural and social institutions.

Names like Perot, Pickens, Clements, Hill, Hunt, Jones, Meadows, and Moody and about a dozen others have built a culture of philanthropy so rich that businesses moving into the city have come to believe that giving in Dallas is a competitive sport. By all accounts, philanthropy in Dallas is an established part of being a Dallasite.

If Dallas is a 50-year-old philanthropist, Austin is 25.

Okay, maybe we don’t have the dozen big names here… or maybe you just haven’t heard of them. Surely you know the name Dell, but what about Butler, Long, Meredith, Hicks, Kozmetsky, Rathgeber, Seriff, Nowlin and Topfer? The list grows every day, in fact. And there’s increasing proof that Austin is on its way to building a rich history of philanthropy of its own.

We have been tracking Austin’s rank among the biggest 50 metropolitan service areas or MSAs for a few years now, and while it’s hard to know exactly where Austin stands – variables, insufficient data, projections based on 70-point algorithms — the Chronicle of Philanthropy offers a widely accepted ranking with its annual “How America Gives” report. Basing its information on tax returns, the 2014 report ranks Austin 36th among the top 50 MSAs. (Dallas, by the way, ranked 8th, while Houston ranked 11th and San Antonio 14th.)

The report ranks a region’s generosity by percentage of gross adjusted income, and within the Austin MSA, which spans from San Marcos to Round Rock, we gave a collective 2.61 percent of our AGI in 2012, for an estimated $1.2 billion. (The other big Texas cities gave more than 3 percent.)

Ranking 36th out of 50 may not sound impressive, but consider that in 2012, Austin ranked 32nd but only reported giving $790.8 million, according to the same report. And in 2007 we were ranked a lowly 48th of the 50 biggest MSAs.

My fellow Austinites, we’ll take this as progress.

Consider a few other benchmarks, too. In 2014 we reported that Austin moved from 41st among the 51 largest MSAs for volunteering to 17th between 2011 and 2012, according to Volunteering in America. And Austin is a burgeoning hub of social enterprise with venture capitalists like Innovation+ fueling great nonprofits with impact investments.

Plus, one of the fastest growing populations is people between the ages of 55 to 64…. the prime age for serious donating and volunteering. Trust me, people are about to get crazy-generous here.

Still, for philanthropy to work in Austin, we have to do it our way. As much as we love our neighbor to the north, we’ll never be Dallas. Dallas is, after all, our more materialistic, conservative sister. Austin, on the other hand, cares about building a strong community, and through philanthropy, we’re learning that a strong community requires donating and volunteering.

The great news is, you can be a part of it.


This article by Monica Williams first appeared in The Austinite Magazine, January 2015. Williams is the founder of GivingCity Austin.



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