Raising Philadelphia’s Philanthropy

The Opportunity? An Additional $323 Million to Share

Philadelphia has done a good job of organizing people in response to the immediate challenges to federal policies. People from all walks of life have joined together to say “no” to measures that reduce opportunities for people and communities. But resistance is not enough; it is equally critical to succeed in creating better futures for people and places in order to demonstrate that equitable public policies and practices generate results. What if we provide avenues for concerned people to be able to say “yes” to positive change by also organizing money?


When it comes to philanthropic giving, we have a lot of room for improvement that would not be a heavy lift for any individual, but which can make a significant difference if we act collectively. Sad fact: the Philadelphia region ranks in the bottom 20% (41 out of 50) in per household philanthropic giving among America’s largest metropolitan areas[1]. Salt Lake City is number one — maybe there is lots of tithing happening there — but that does not explain Memphis at number two or Birmingham at number three. Even Baltimore is considerably more generous than Philadelphia. New Orleans ranks right in the middle, with average annual giving of $3,391/household (2.8% of adjusted gross income or AGI). The typical Philadelphia region household donates $2,604 annually (2.5% AGI).

Top Giving FINAL

So here is a modest proposal: What if we simply increase our giving rate to the national average? There would be a net increase of $323 million per year in philanthropic giving to area nonprofits for a total of $4.4 billion (that’s billion, with a b). On a per day basis, this would cost the average household just $0.56 more than what they already contribute for a total of $7.70/day.

If this sounds like a lot, consider that Philadelphia’s low-income families already donate 6.9% of their AGI each year—far more than the average high-income families at 2.5%.

Top Giving FINAL (1)

So how do we start a movement to greater philanthropic engagement? Experience in other efforts across the country and Philadelphia point to the fact that we can plan, organize, and make large-scale change in persistent behaviors. Nationally, there has been great success in getting people to wear seatbelts, put kids in car seats, and reduce smoking. Locally, we’ve recently organized the Read by 4! campaign aimed at significantly increasing the number of students entering the 4th grade at reading level; Shared Prosperity, a coordinated effort to help lift citizens and communities out of poverty and increase opportunities for low-income people; and Shared Safety, a collective response to relational violence. These and other efforts began with a slightly audacious vision, people across sectors around a table, and a willingness to work together to create and implement a unified plan.

We’re thinking of this as collective impact philanthropy. Over perhaps the next three years, the region’s nonprofit and philanthropic leaders can work together to set a shared goal, develop and implement an action plan, and create a way to track success such that the region’s rate of household philanthropic giving would reach the national average. People would give directly to organizations of their choosing; the point is to create a greater and sustained culture of philanthropy throughout the Philadelphia region.

We think it’s worth the effort to raise an additional $323,000,000/year for good causes.

Exactly how would this happen?  We have ideas based upon past successes, but first want to learn if others think this is a good idea. What do you think?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can work together to increase Philadelphia’s philanthropic giving — you can reach me at DKligerman@fairmountinc.com

([1] IRS data of 2015 tax returns.)

Get to Know Fairmount Ventures: Lauren Zimmerman, Project Manager

We’re back with another edition of ‘Get to Know Fairmount Ventures’, a series of short Q+A’s with our team members, showcasing the many passions and personalities behind our firm.

Lauren Zimmerman, Fairmount Ventures

Lauren Zimmerman, Project Manager, uses her experience in writing, marketing and strategic planning to help Fairmount’s clients craft careful messaging and branding for their organizations. Lauren holds a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics from Boston University, where she studied a number of languages including Turkish, Portuguese, French and Kazakh.

FV: You began as an Associate at Fairmount, and now you’re a Project Manager—tell us about how your role has evolved over these past few years.

LZ: My role as an Associate was initially very research-intensive. I researched the giving levels and priorities of foundations for resource development and strategic plans and conducted various needs assessments to help us clearly identify the problems we work to address for our clients. As I transitioned to a Senior Associate and, later, Project Manager, I began managing timelines, tasks, and staff, and contributing to strategy. The greatest difference between my starting role and my current role is my level of responsibility and visibility towards the client and the team. Above all else, Fairmount has really helped me build up the skills to analyze my research and to develop strategy from it.

FV: What does a typical day look like for you?

LZ: One of my favorite things about working at Fairmount is that no two days are the same. The variety of clients, their different sizes and unique scopes means that I do something different every day. Some days I work on six or seven projects, spending fewer than 30 minutes on each. Other days, I’ll focus on one client for six hours.

My days are truly a mix—I manage timelines and work plans, review work from Associates and edits from my client leads, produce original writing, help with internal brainstorming sessions, develop strategy and attend client meetings.

FV: You majored in linguistics at Boston University, and you’ve described your fascination with the nuances of language—how do you apply this intrigue to your work with Fairmount’s diverse set of clients?

LZ: I love listening to the specific words that people use to describe their organizations and visions, and in fundraising, this is especially important because their word choice tells you a lot about their priorities and passions. No two people describe the same organization in the same way, so spending time focusing on how they talk about their work really helps us learn what’s most important to them.

When writing client materials, I’ve found that it’s natural to describe complex ideas in significant detail, but at Fairmount we focus on using language as efficiently and effectively as possible. As a result, I often have to go back to my proposals and cut a lot of my language out because I know that I can be more efficient in my writing.

FV: What’s one of the most memorable projects you’ve worked on so far?

LZ: The intricate and complex projects are always the most memorable for me. Specifically, the Promise Zone Strategic Plan and the subsequent Promise Neighborhoods application stand out. In one of the most hands-on projects I’ve done here, the Promise Zone project brought Fairmount into this federally-designated West Philly community to facilitate conversations with community members and policy makers around increasing opportunity for residents. The plan and the leadership teams that were created through that process became critical to pursuing additional funding (including the recent $30 million Promise Neighborhood grant) and other plans in the community. Attending the announcement of the Promise Neighborhood award was one of my proudest moments.

Also, I live in West Philly, and I loved getting to know community leaders and history, as well as unique characteristics of each neighborhood.

FV: What are some of your favorite things about the city?

LZ: This is a great city for beer—I’m a huge beer nerd. Philly has long been a city with access to great beer from across country, but since I’ve been here, there’s been a real renaissance in local beer, too. I also love that Philly is a city of neighborhoods and that every neighborhood can feel like a different city.