Giving in the Northwest: A Big Picture View of Regional Philanthropy and Current Trends

Screen Shot 2017-12-14 at 6.40.52 PM.png

Earlier this year, we introduced a brand-new section on our site exclusively devoted to philanthropy in the Northwestern United States. The grantmakers’ association here, Philanthropy Northwest, defines the region as six states (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming), so these are the states we have begun exploring in our expanded coverage.

As we've learned while covering other regions, the best place to start when getting to know giving habits and trends in a new region is often the regional grantmakers’ association, so I got in touch with the staff at Philanthropy Northwest to gain some insights. The association also released its Trends in Northwest Giving 2017 report earlier this year as well, so we’re also going to take a look at some of the key findings here.

Regarding grantmaking trends, I asked Nicole Neroulias Gupte, who then served as Philanthropy Northwest's senior communications manager, what the biggest issues and greatest regional needs are in the Northwest. Here’s what she said:

Health and education are the top issue areas, based on the most recent grantmaking data provided by our partners at Foundation Center. From our network, and by looking at each of our six states (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington & Wyoming) we also know that human services and the environment are priorities, too.
For support type, foundations in our region are investing in program development, research & evaluation, capacity-building & technical assistance, and general support strategies.
For population type, funders want to invest in historically underserved communities and embrace grantmaking with an equity lens. We have larger share of grant funding to Native communities in our region than you see nationally: 25 percent of funding across the country for Native communities goes to our six-state region (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming). But grants for communities of color are just a narrow slice of the pie; we hope to see that increase in our next Trends in Northwest Giving report.

When I asked Gupte who some of the top grantmakers to watch right now in the region are, here’s the list I was given:

  • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (the world’s biggest private foundation)
  • The Oregon Community Foundation
  • Seattle Foundation (funder with the biggest place-based 24-hour giving day)
  • Microsoft (one of the world’s most generous companies)
  • United Way of King County
  • The Boeing Company
  • M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust
  • Washington Research Foundation
  • Meyer Memorial Trust
  • The Ford Family Foundation
  • Rasmuson Foundation
  • Pride Foundation
  • Women’s Funding Alliance
  • Washington Women’s Foundation
  • Potlatch Fund
  • Jeff Bezos
  • Paul G. Allen
  • Gary Rubens (newer name on the scene)
  • Bill Clapp (much admired for his global focus)
  • Harriet Bullitt (honored by Seattle Business magazine last year for her lifetime contributions to local philanthropy)

That list is not comprehensive and we've come across other important funders in region since starting Of note, Gupte is no longer with Philanthropy Northwest and now serves as the communications director for Day for Girls International in Seattle. She is also a partner for Social Venture Partners Seattle. She recently mentioned to us a couple points of interest for individual and aspiring philanthropists. Social Venture Partners Seattle has a new CEO, and the Raikes Foundation, based in Seattle, has launched a resource for donors called the

Other companies and foundations that have reported more than $1 million in Northwest grants can be viewed here. Over the past few months, we have researched, interviewed, and profiled many of the funders on this list, which you can learn more about in the Places section of our GrantFinder page.

Without question, the most obvious and exciting trend in this region is that philanthropy is on the rise.

Grantmaking in the Northwest jumped by 40 percent between 2012 and 2014, which was a complete reversal of declines noted in the prior recession years. The majority of foundations in the Northwest are private family foundations, about 56 percent. However, over half of the grant dollars being distributed by family foundations has been coming from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s support of activities and programs in Oregon and Washington.

It's worth mentioning that another major private funder has lately appeared in the region, which is the Ballmer Group, the philanthropy of former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife Connie. Along with Los Angeles and Detroit, the Pacific Northwest is one of three geographic focal points of the Ballmer Group's grantmaking, which aims to reduce poverty and improve economic mobility. No hard data is yet available on local Ballmer grantmaking, but it's quite possible that the couple will soon rank among the region's top funders, if they don't already. Corporate grantmaking here has been on the rise as well lately, with Boeing and Microsoft leading the way.  

Place-based funding is huge here, and many funders in the Northwest have been looking beyond programs to provide capacity-building, technical assistance, and research and evaluation support as well. All of this is great news for local nonprofits, especially health groups.

Health funding has been growing the fastest in the region lately, followed by public affairs and education. Yet education has been a very consistent priority that isn’t expected to waver much in the foreseeable future. Due to the nature of the current political administration, we wouldn’t be surprised to see increased funding for public affairs advocacy and policy efforts, especially in relation to local immigrant and LGBTQ communities. A significant number of grants have been going to Alaska Native and Native American communities in the Northwest when compared to other ethnic populations in the region. However, the economically disadvantaged, children and youth, women and girls, and people with disabilities have still been taking top priority with funders in these six states.

To learn more about more specific current trends in each of the six states of the Northwest, we reviewed trends by individual state to see where grants have been going. For example, the top priorities are environment and animals in Alaska and Wyoming, education in Idaho and Montana, and health in Oregon and Washington. Learn more in our six Northwest state trends blogs here:

Stay tuned as we dive into Northwest philanthropy with comprehensive foundation profiles and blog articles that dig deeper into recent grantmaking news. Philanthropy Northwest’s news section is another good place to keep up with what’s going on with giving in the region. 

This is a huge region with lots to learn about, so we’ll keep an ear to the ground for new developments, priority shifts, and ongoing trends. Northwest giving is really taking off right now, and we're thrilled to be a part of it.