Economic Development, Higher Education, and Nonprofits

New report touts region’s generosity

November 27, 2015
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A new study indicates Kent County is one of the most generous counties in the state.

The recent report issued by Grand Valley State University’s Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy is an estimate of Kent County’s giving for 2013, arrived at by applying the methodology of a well-respected national study, “Giving USA,” to the region, said Stephanie Adams, marketing and communications manager for the Johnson Center.

The data comes from a number of sources, including census and tax data, she said. The report did not analyze how much of the giving is distributed inside Kent County compared to outside the county.

“Over the four years, the trend in total estimated giving is upward, though there is considerable year-to-year variation. It decreased in 2013 by 4.1 percent, following an increase of 11.9 percent from 2011-2012. These recent annual variations in Kent County giving were somewhat different than national trends,” the report read.

“Total annual estimated giving nationally increased by 4.4 percent from 2012-2013, compared to the 4.1 percent decrease in Kent County. Furthermore, from 2011-2012, Kent County giving increased at a greater rate (12.4 percent) than did giving across the nation (4.2 percent).

“This year-to-year volatility in local giving could be caused by a number of factors, and shows why it is important to track giving data over time.”

The report showed that, overall, Kent County is exceptionally generous philanthropically. While the county makes up only 6 percent of the state’s population, Kent County residents contribute 9 percent of all giving statewide, Adams said.

“We estimate that donors of all types located in Kent County gave a total of $907,877,678 in 2013. This represents a moderate decrease of slightly more than $39 million from our estimate of 2012 total giving,” the report read.

“Of this $907.88 million, the majority (66.7 percent) came from individuals, but foundations also contributed a significant portion (23.1 percent). In fact, foundations in Kent County contributed a much higher percent of total giving than foundations across the nation (14.6 percent).”

The report noted the following details from 2012-2013:

  • Individual giving decreased from $614.07 million to $605.79 million (-1.3 percent).
  • Foundation giving decreased from $244.78 million to $209.60 million (-14.3 percent).
  • Corporate giving increased from $51.05 million to $52.37 million (+2.6 percent).
  • Bequest giving increased from $37.35 million to $40.12 million (+7.4 percent).

Researchers noted the report’s numbers didn’t necessarily mean individuals in Kent County give less than those in other communities. The differences in percentage from the national estimates are probably caused by the fact that there is a relatively higher level of foundation giving in Kent County, especially compared to other regions of the country.

“There are many factors that can cause giving to go up or down in any community in any given year — causes that don’t necessarily mean individuals, foundations or corporations were any more or less generous that year,” said Kyle Caldwell, executive director at the Johnson Center.

“So these estimated numbers for 2013 are best interpreted as part of an overall gradual increase in Kent County giving over the past few years.”

But one piece of data did stand out.

“We were a little surprised by the slight decline in total giving for 2013 ($39 million), but this comes after a nearly 12 percent increase during the previous survey year. Overall, the trend for giving is still going up,” Adams said.

“As we look at the trends in giving across foundations, corporations, individuals and bequests, it will be important to understand that philanthropy plays an important role in our quality of life, and encouraging all to maintain the overall upward giving curve will ensure a robust and healthy Kent County.”

As for how millennials — the upcoming generation of philanthropic givers — will fare, Adams said it’s hard to tell.

“What we do know about millennials is that they will engage in philanthropy in different ways,” she said.

“Younger givers want to be more engaged directly in the causes they support, and they see education, vocation, vacation and philanthropy as all potentially interwoven.”

What’s special about Kent County’s generosity? That’s a tough question to answer based on this study, Adams said. The report is only an estimate of giving, not an in-depth study of giving habits or preferences or motives.

On the other hand, Adams noted, Kent County is a community known as a healthy faith community with strong family philanthropy. It’s also got the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy.

“That has to mean something,” she said.

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