Local Giving in 2015: A Few Trends That Stand Out

It’s been a big year for local giving, and with 2015 coming to a close, we started reflecting on some of the trends that we’ve been seeing and writing about over the past year. Local givingby which we mean funding from donors to causes in their regional bases—is a big deal in philanthropy, accounting for about half of all charitable gifts. Such giving sometimes tracks with the larger national trends in philanthropy, but often not. Also, while community foundations are obviously big players in many localities, it's important to look well beyond these players to get a fix on what funders are prioritizing. That's especially true in larger, wealthier cities, as ever more foundations and major individual donors arrive on the scene. 

We cover a wide span of geography at Inside Philanthropy, from the West Coast to the East Coast and from the Midwest to the Southwest. Obviously, different regions have different needs that funders are tuned in to. But after talking with funders around the country and following local news beats all year, we can’t help but notice a few commonalities that are shared across the regions we focus on.

Here are a few local giving trends that stand out.

Local Arts Giving

Even foundations that have a broad national and global focus often keep arts and culture giving closer to home. Unlike such big issues as health and climate change, arts is often a big part of community life in a way that can make homegrown groups more enticing and relatable than distant competition. Take, for example, the MacArthur Foundation, which revamped its grantmaking strategy but has remained committed to local arts groups in Chicago.

Related: Phew! As It Revamps, MacArthur Makes Clear It Has an “Enduring Commitment” to Chicago

For some funders, backing the arts is part of a larger strategy of revitalizing cities in ways that attract talented people and drive economic growth. For others, it's about creating more equitable access to cultural opportunities. And, of course, to many donors, it's just about the love of art. Whatever the different motives, there is definitely a lot of energy around local arts funding right now. 

Across our local regions, these are some of the hottest causes that funders have been paying attention to this year:

  • Youth arts
  • Public art
  • Physical spaces for artists
  • Diversifying audiences
  • Free programs
  • Creative risk taking
  • Capacity building

This has been a big year for arts & culture partnerships between top funders. One example comes from Boston, where Barr and other foundations are collaborating on an initiative to spur the arts in that city to new heights. 

Related: The Arts Are Thriving in Boston—Thanks in Part to This Foundation  

Finding space for artists to practice, create, and perform is a big funding issue in many places, including the Bay Area. The Rainin Foundation is one funder behind this local movement. Along with some other Bay Area funders, Rainin has also been paying attention to public art, including murals in alleys and interactive benches, especially in Central Market.

Related: Art Space and Public Art: Where Rainin’s Focus is in the Bay Area 

Local Parks Giving

Another big priority for many locally focused funders in 2015 has been backing parks, trails, and other shared spaces. Like the arts, these features of urban life are seen by many funders as a key to improving quality of life and attracting the kind of younger, talented people that make cities vital and prosperous. Public health is also an issue on the minds of some parks funders, who want to make it easier for people to engage in physical activity. Meanwhile, some funders come to this area with concerns about the environment and sustainable food systems. 

These are some of 2015’s local giving trends for parks and green spaces:

  • Downtown green space
  • Urban farms/gardens
  • Poor neighborhood revitalization via trail systems
  • Bike sharing
  • Making parks more engaging

Texas’ Belo Foundation became so committed to local parks this fall that it changed its name to Parks for Downtown Dallas. Major funder-backed parks projects are underway right now in Houston, Tulsa, Cleveland, New York, and St. Louis.  

Related: The Corporate Funder behind That $30 Million Pledge for New Parks in Dallas

Funders are also thinking about creative ways to engage people in public spaces. One interesting story that comes to mind came from Chicago, where the Driehaus Foundation has been supporting a talking statute project to bring public spaces to life. A $300,000 grant funded the technology—anyone with a smart phone can approach a sculpture to hear a recorded message—and enabled public art to engage the public in a new and free way.

Related: A Chat in the Park: Why This Foundation is Paying for Statues to Tell Their Stories

Bike sharing was a popular topic in cities across America this year, and local foundations have been jumping on this economical and eco-friendly trend. For example, in Philadelphia, the William Penn Foundation made a $1.5 million commitment to expand the city’s bike sharing program this year. Bike share programs encourage residents and tourists to explore parks and waterfront areas, access underserved parts of the city, and stay active and healthy. Elsewhere, funders are bankrolling bike paths.

Related: Getting People to the Parks is One Reason This Foundation is Backing Bike Sharing 

Local Women’s Giving Circles

Long gone are the days when the philanthropy sector was dominated by old white men. Women have been emerging as a powerful giving force in national philanthropysee, for example our coverage of the group Women Moving Millionsbut their clout is also growing locally, and we definitely saw that in 2015. One big factor here is the growing popularity of giving circles. Giving circles allow women to become involved in philanthropy on the local level on a volunteer basis, without being employees of foundations or nonprofits.

For example, the Women’s Foundation of California is comprised of six giving circles to boost the economic security of low-income women and families in the state. The foundation has awarded over $10.8 million to more than 518 nonprofits serving women and girls over the past 16 years.

Related: Women’s Giving Circles: How They’re Changing Philanthropy in California

On the East Coast, the Boston-based Hestia Fund is another example of a locally focused, volunteer-led giving circle. Approximately 50 women comprise this fund, which is focused on in-school and after-school programs for students in grades K-12.

Related: Hestia Fund: Boston Grants

And no discussion of women’s giving circles would be complete without mentioning the Impact 100 movement. We have profiled the chapters in Philadelphia and Chicago so far, but there are more than two dozen active chapters across the country. Funding areas for these women’s collectives often include arts & culture, education, environment, family, and health, and the grantmaking model pools together donations of women who can commit $1,000 per year.

Related: Impact100 Philadelphia: Philadelphia GrantsImpact 100 Chicago: Chicago Grants

Community Foundation LBGT Support

One final observation that I’d like to make is that community foundations around the country have stepped up their support for the LBGT community. Perhaps this is due to many of the big national funders focusing their efforts elsewhere after big Supreme Court successes, or perhaps LGBT acceptance in our communities is finally becoming a little more mainstream, drawing in more cautious funders.

Regardless, LGBT groups saw new and improved funding opportunities from community foundations through discretionary grantmaking and affiliated donor funds in 2015. This is a trend expected to carry on into the new year and beyond. Thus far, LGBT seniors and youth have been at the heart of community foundation giving across the country.

These are some of the local community foundations that have supported causes for LGBT nonprofits and members of their community:

  • Community Foundation of Utah
  • Community Foundation for Northeast Florida
  • Chicago Community Trust
  • Stonewall Community Foundation
  • Kalamazoo Community Foundation
  • Community Foundation for Southern Arizona
  • Akron Community Foundation
  • The Miami Foundation  

Related: Are Community Foundations Stepping Up Support for LGBT Issues? It Looks That Way


Lots else has been going on in our local coverage, including in areas such as education, health, housing, and criminal justice. One overall trend is the continued emergence of new foundations and major individual donors as more wealth from recent boom times continues to be harnessed to philanthropy. We expect that trend to accelerate in coming years, with many of these new funders focusing locally, which is good news for any group seeking support. 

To keep up with the local funding scene in your area and learn about locally focused funders to connect with, check out IP’s place-based blogs: