In Seattle and Beyond: Current Grantmaking Trends in Washington

photo:  f11photo/shutterstock

photo:  f11photo/shutterstock

In conversations about philanthropy the state of Washington, the elephant in the room is always the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Based in Seattle, this massive grantmaking force has a Washington-centric program that addresses statewide poverty, homelessness, education and basic needs. So far, Gates has invested over $1 billion to enhance quality education for children, reduce family homelessness, and support the vulnerable families in its home state.

But even aside from Gates, there’s a lot of interesting stuff happening in the world of philanthropy in Washington State, with annual giving on the rise and some new funders arriving on the scene. 

The Seattle Foundation, with the mission to "make Greater Seattle a stronger, more vibrant community for all," is going strong and last reported $75 million in annual grants, channeling the giving of some 1,200 donors who work through this community foundation. Other notable grantmakers based in Washington include the Microsoft Corporation, United Way of King County, the Washington Research Foundation, the Norcliffe Foundation, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, and the Raikes Foundation. Microsoft is a global funder, so Washington groups only see a small portion of the tech giant’s funds. However, academic research in Washington state is the priority for Washington Research Foundation. The United Way of King County is hyper-local in its support for homelessness, youth, early learning, and financial stability. Meanwhile, Norcliffe funds a wide variety of topics in the Puget Sound area, and Murdock mostly supports science research and education in the state. Raikes makes quite a few local grants focused on youth. 

Paul G. Allen is another important funder to watch here, giving through both his family foundation and his company, Vulcan. Earlier this year, Allen committed $30 million to create permanent housing for low-income and homeless families in Seattle. That gift came not long after Allen gave $50 million to the University of Washington's Computer Science and Engineering program. Of course, also, Allen grants have long supported the arts in Washington.

Overall, health is the biggest grantmaking topic in Washington, coming in at a whopping 47 percent of grants, according to Philanthropy Northwest data. Education grantmaking comes in at about 18 percent of overall grants, and human services grants make up about 11 percent.

Something that has stood out to us so far in our coverage of the Northwest region is funders’ steadfast commitments to the environment and wildlife. However, this isn’t necessarily as true here in Washington. Environment and animals only makes up less than four percent of total grantmaking in the state, compared to around seven percent in the region as a whole.

In terms of corporate philanthropy, top Washington givers include Alaska Air Group, Ash Consulting, AT&T, Boeing, and the PACCAR Foundation. Overall in the Northwest, corporate giving usually accounts for at least eight percent total giving in the region. However, this seems to be on the rise.

One big question is how giving by Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos, will unfold in coming years. Obviously there's huge potential here and Bezos has lately dropped hints that he's interested in turning to philanthropy. If his giving is significant and includes a strong local focus, Bezos could quickly become a major philanthropic force in Washington State.

Another question mark is the trajectory of new giving in the region by the Ballmer Group, piloted by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife Connie. The Northwest is one of the Ballmer Group's geographic focus areas and it's been quickly expanding its giving "to improve economic mobility for children and families in the United States who are disproportionately likely to remain in poverty." But details remain sketchy about the scope and recipients of its local grantmaking. 

To get in-tune with what Washington and other Northwest funders are supporting these days, take some time to browse through our regional funding guide. We’re regularly adding new grantmaker profiles to this guide and keeping up with local news about grant activity happening here on the local level. Philanthropy Northwest’s Washington news section is also a good place to keep up with local happenings, such as upcoming funders’ meetings, panel discussions, conferences, and conventions.