How we give here, Pt. II

   Last month, part one of this column’s summary of the recent Cornerstone Strategies report on charitable giving in Whatcom County focused on some key indicators comparing Whatcom County philanthropy to the rest of the state and the nation.
   In this second and final look at the study, I want to take a look at some of the findings for ZIP code levels in Whatcom County and how the local nonprofit sector is divided by major area of focus.
   While we can get accurate figures from tax returns on how much money is given to charity by each itemizer, the figures do not tell us where the money goes by category. It is useful, however, in looking at overall philanthropic activity in our county to know the rough breakdown of nonprofits by the focus of their work.
   My hunch after many years of working in the nonprofit sector is that the average person thinks that most nonprofits are human services organizations. While human service organizations are the leading category, they accounted for only 26 percent of all nonprofits in Whatcom County in 2002. They were followed in order by the following types of organizations: education (19 percent), arts, culture and humanities (14 percent), public and societal benefit (12 percent), health (12 percent), religion (10 percent) and environment (5 percent). This composition is similar to the pattern in the state.
   One of the interesting changes about which we don’t know enough to draw any significant conclusions without further research is that the number of public charities reporting to the IRS grew from 149 in 1997 to 196 in 2002.
   At the very least, this means that about one-third more nonprofits had income of at least $25,000 for the year that required them to file a form 990 with the IRS.
   This growth trend in nonprofits mirrors the general growth of Whatcom County, and it merits our attention for a variety of reasons. Some will jump to the conclusion that we don’t need and can’t support that kind of increase in the nonprofit sector.
   We need to know a lot more about the type and work of these new and existing nonprofits now required to report their income of $25,000 or more before we can assess whether or not they are needed. Starting and maintaining nonprofits is never an easy thing, and they usually emerge in response to a community need of some kind that is not currently being met by existing nonprofits, business or government.
   One of the interesting pieces of information we can now glean from the tax returns is where the philanthropic dollars come from by ZIP codes in Whatcom County.
   The Cornerstone Strategies report includes comparative charitable giving for 1997 and 2002 by ZIP code, and it provides a few small surprises. In 2002 four of the 18 Whatcom County ZIP codes exceeded the national average of total dollars given per tax return by those who itemize: Lynden, Lummi Island, Bellingham 98228 and Everson.
   Another three – Bellingham 98225 and 98227 and Blaine – exceeded the Whatcom County average of $3,200 per return. Giving in Deming and Point Roberts decreased markedly between 1997 and 2002, but overall average contributions remained the same for those two years. One of the surprising results was that the Belllingham 98225 area that contains South Hill, Fairhaven and some of Edgemoor showed about a 20 percent decline from 1997 to 2002.
   One final look at how charitable giving breaks down in Whatcom County by geography might provide some more surprises. Of the $66 million donated to public charities in Whatcom County in 2002, 24 percent came from Bellingham ZIP code 98226, followed by Lynden at 17.4 percent, Bellingham 98225 at 17 percent, Bellingham 98229 at 13 percent, Ferndale at 11 percent and Blaine at 6 percent. All the other ZIPs contributed less than 5 percent each.
   While it may be expected that the Bellingham ZIPs would provide more because of their size, comparing the 2002 returns with the 2000 Census figures provides another look at how we give here. The story becomes very different when we look at per capita giving. The per capita giving figures range from $113 in Sumas to $778 on Lummi Island, for a 2002 Whatcom County average of $338. Bellingham 98226 and 98225 fall to 7th and 8th in Whatcom ZIP codes for per capita giving.
   So, what do all these figures on charitable giving mean in practical terms? First and foremost, we now know much better how we are doing compared to ourselves in the past and to other Washington counties and national averages.
   This is important to benchmark our efforts, just as business keeps track from year to year about business trends. The Cornerstone Strategies report, now available online at, also gives us a better sense of the breadth of our vital and essential nonprofit sector as we depend upon it for part of our solutions to the challenges our rapid growth presents.
   The report also breaks some likely stereotypes about where the local charitable dollars come from.
   Whatcom County personal philanthropy, while still heavily concentrated in Bellingham, has strong outposts throughout the county in such places as Lynden, Lummi Island, Ferndale, Blaine and Everson.
   Only about 52 percent of Whatcom nonprofit sector income comes from individual charitable contributions. Smart people charged with raising charitable dollars here might want to cast a wider net than they have been.
   We can only hope that this foray into a serious look at our community philanthropy will continue, and that others will be interested in connecting the performance of our nonprofit sector to other indicators that help us measure and improve the quality of our lives together in Whatcom County.

Don Drake is president of Whatcom Community Foundation, an independent nonprofit public foundation founded in 1996 with a dual mission of enhancing private charitable giving and building community in Whatcom County.

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