In charitable giving, Austin continues to lag behind other major metropolitan areas in Texas, according the the new “How America Gives” annual report by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. The study examined charitable giving based on itemized deductions on 2015 income tax reports, the most recent data available. But local philanthropy experts say the report doesn’t paint the whole picture of how Austin gives.
(See graphics below, 1. Austin compared to other Texas cities, 2. Austin breakdown by income, 3. Austin ranked among other major metros.)
According to the report, the average percentage of income given to charity, or “giving ratio,” in Austin was 3.0 percent with an average of $6,249 donated per person who itemized. San Antonio, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth had an average 3.8 percent giving ratio, with an average gift among those metros of $7,384. The giving ratio in Texas was 3.8 percent with an average gift per person of $7,299.
Among major metro areas, Austin ranks 29th in the percent of income it gives to charity.
But local leaders experienced in philanthropy say the report offers insight into just one type of giving by one type of donor — those who take a charitable deduction on their income tax returns. In Austin, that number may not reflect the actual giving for a number of reasons.
First, Texas does not have a state income tax, therefore tax filers are less inclined to itemize, according to the report. Second, Austin’s wealth is newer than that in other major metro areas in Texas, says Nell Edgington, a nonprofit consultant with Social Velocity. “Therefore it’s philanthropy is new. While we have fantastic volunteer rates, we’ve been unable to translate this into giving rates,” she said.
Third, people around the country are giving in new ways, says LeAnn Powers, chief professional officer of United Way of Williamson County.
“We hear a lot about how social media affects giving, but I want to add that platforms like Go Fund Me are having an effect, too,” said Powers.
Online donation platforms like Go Fund Me and You Caring allow people to give directly to other people rather than nonprofits, which means those donations are considered personal gifts and cannot be claimed on tax returns. In September 2015, Go Fund Me reported that it had raised $1 billion for personal causes. That number would place Go Fund Me among the 10 largest charities in America in 2015 and second only to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in annual giving. Go Fund Me charges 5 percent from each donation received and in addition to individuals, many nonprofits use Go Fund me to raise money.
Powers also points out that in-kind giving is not included in the report. “That’s another piece of the puzzle.”
She said, for example, that in response to Hurricane Harvey, United Way of Williamson County was able to send more than two semi-trucks of donated items to coastal United Way offices. “We had one person spend $100 in shipping just to send us supplies to deliver,” she said. “So giving has a lot of different pieces to it.”
(In the below graphic, “Giving Ratio” refers to percent of income given.)
NOTE: This article was co-published with the Austin American-Statesman on Oct. 8, 2017.
PHOTO: Joey Breeden and Cory Davis of UPS Freight and LeAnn Powers of United Way of Williamson County stand by a one of the two semi-trucks loaded with 21 tons of donated items headed to Port Arthur for Hurricane Harvey relief. Photo courtesy United Way of Williamson County.