New Insights into Southeast Philanthropy: The Issues, Impressive Growth, and Top Givers

As the year slowly but surely comes to a close, it’s a great time to be looking at reports on philanthropic trends and using lessons learned to carry us into 2017. We recently looked at some reports about giving trends in the Bay Area, so today we move across the country to the Southeast to get a better understanding of what’s going on down here too.

Our key source on Southeast philanthropy, the Southeast Council on Foundations recently held its annual meeting and released the inaugural edition of Southern Trends Report: Philanthropy in the Southeast Region, a comprehensive report on Southern and Southeast philanthropy produced in partnership with the Foundation Center. Through our steady stream of posts, we’ve reported on how philanthropy in this region is dramatically changing, which is a big reason why we decided to start a local coverage section on the region just this year. This new report sheds critical light on giving trends in the region, highlighting key areas of interest to watch.

Related: What's Going On With Philanthropy in the American Southeast? Here's a Quick Look

According to the report and 2014 data, the Southeast is home to 15,439 foundations with assets of around $98.5 billion and giving of $7 billion. Just to clarify, we’re talking about the following states that constitute the Southeast: Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Here are a few of the things that stood out to us from this report.

Education is the Top Issue in the Southeast

Between 2003 and 2013, education has consistently been the highest funded subject category. Approximately 24 percent of grant dollars in this decade, totaling over $7.8 billion, has been committed to education. Health causes have seen the second highest percentage of grant dollars, 14 percent totaling over $4.6 billion.

Human services grants in the Southeast are awarded with great frequency but in smaller amounts. During the ten-year period, only 11 percent of grant dollars went to human services causes but that made up 20 percent of overall grant dollars. Compared to some parts of the country, support for human rights causes has traditionally been low (just 1 percent of both grant dollars and number of grants), but with the state of the nation today, that could be changing soon.

Family Foundations and Community Foundations are Rapidly Growing in the Southeast

Across the board, foundations based on private family funds and community funds are growing rapidly, and this is great news for local nonprofits. Between 2004 and 2014, Southeastern active family foundations increased in number by over 55 percent, which is truly impressive. Also during that eleven-year period, both assets and giving for both of these types of funders more than doubled.

Overall, the number of grantmaking foundations rose by about 34 percent during this ten-year period, outpacing the national average of 28 percent. Other regions of the country may have underestimated the philanthropic power of this region in the past, but now is the time to start paying attention to what Southeast funders are doing.

Environmental Support is Very Low in the Southeast

The Southeast Council on Foundations asked its members to rank the most pressing challenges for the communities they serve, and as we noted above, education topped the charts. But what’s also remarkable is that the environment seems to be of little or no concern to funders in the Southeast. Three of the five lowest areas of concern were environmental ones: urban parks and greenspace, water availability and water quality, and land conservation.

In light of the recent election, environmentalists are incredibly concerned about the state of America’s future environment and dwindling of government support for conservation and pollution control. If things pan out the way many expect, more of a burden may fall upon philanthropy to fill in the gaps. The big question is whether Southeast funders will choose to rise to the challenge.

Florida and North Carolina Top Giving States  

The state of Florida blows away the competition in terms of both number of foundations and total assets when compared to other states in the Southeast. As of 2014 statistics, Florida had 5,283 foundations with combined assets exceeding $25.8 billion. The Florida state population in 2014 was 19.89 million. The other impressive chart-topper worth mentioning though is North Carolina, which had 3,185 foundations and more than $18.9 billion in assets in 2014. And North Carolina’s 2014 population was just 9.994 million.

Ultimately, if you do the math, North Carolina’s numbers are considerably more impressive. North Carolina’s total giving in 2014 was over $1.4 billion, not too far behind Florida’s $1.7 brillion.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that the richest funder in all of the Southeast, The Duke Endowment, is based in North Carolina and has about $3.4 billion in assets. The Duke Endowment ranked fifth in terms of total giving though, after the Walton Family Foundation, Foundation for the Carolinas, Bank of America Charitable Foundation, and the Wal-Mart Foundation. Meanwhile, the top non-Southeast foundations that have been giving to the Southeast are the Wallace Foundation, the JPB Foundation, the Brown Foundation, and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. According to the report, the School Board of Hillsborough County, Florida was the top earning grantee in the Southeast pulling in $440 million from multiple funding sources.

To learn more, download and read through the full report on the Foundation Center’s website. Here you can manipulate the data in a lot of different ways to better understand who is giving, what they're giving to, and their approach to grantmaking.