A Charity Slump: Despite a Strong Economy, Oregon Residents are Giving Less. What's Going on?

Eugene, Oregon. J.Robert Williams/shutterstock

Eugene, Oregon. J.Robert Williams/shutterstock

As the economy and stock market have surged to new heights in the past few years, nearly every region of the U.S. has seen gains—including Oregon, where the unemployment rate now stands at 4 percent, the lowest level since 2000. And according to data reported in the Wall Street Journal, there are nearly 90,000 households in the state with more than $1 million in investable assets—a big jump from a few years ago.

With the economy humming and new wealth piling up, why has Oregon experienced its first statewide drop in giving in a decade?

That’s a very good question.

The surprising finding from the Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) is in its latest annual Giving in Oregon report, which assesses giving trends in the state and tracks the charitable contributions received by Oregon nonprofits. The report revealed that giving rates in the state have flattened out regardless of residents’ income levels. While the U.S. national average rate of giving to charity increased from 2.19 percent to 2.31 percent, Oregon remained flat at 2.22 percent without increases. And regardless of how much money a household makes in Oregon, these giving levels have remained flat recently. Meanwhile, the average U.S. household bringing in over $200,000 per year increased its giving from 3.2 percent to 3.5 percent between 2015 and 2016.

The good news in all of this is that Oregon nonprofits aren’t suffering terribly due to the tepid giving of its residents. In fact, the OCF report points out that contributions to nonprofits in Oregon have increased by nearly 50 percent between 2010 and 2016. This money is coming from individual donations, but also government and foundation grants throughout the state.

Another fact that is hardly surprising is that education is the top giving priority by far in the state. Education giving made up over 40 percent of total giving in the most recent years, according to available data. While overall contributions to Oregon nonprofits increased nearly 50 percent, education contributions increased nearly 60 percent. Meanwhile, other interest areas individually comprised only around 10 percent or less of total giving. The next most popular giving categories in Oregon after education include human services and health.

What does this all mean for the big grantmaking foundations in Oregon, like OCF and M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust?

For these funders and others, like the Nonprofit Association of Oregon and the Ford Family Foundation, it means putting out a public call for action. Just in time for the winter holiday season, these local funders have banded together to ask the public to step up their local giving and show their support for the over 20,000 nonprofits in Oregon. For example, OCF established the OCF Leadership Fund, which promotes effective philanthropy in Oregon, supports OCF’s outreach efforts, and ensures that more donations go directly to the most critical state issues. This is an attempt to select causes that matter to individual donors, but also comprises a philanthropy-boosting project to let more Oregonians know about the importance of giving and develop giving programs in every corner of the state.

For grantseekers, there are five primary grant programs open for applications at OCF. The largest is the Community Grant Program, which has a broad and statewide focus, but there are also accessible opportunities here for select Oregon counties, disadvantaged children, and arts and culture groups. Learn more about the current state of Oregon giving and how philanthropists can help by browsing the full OCF Giving in Oregon report.