State pinches charity penny

Maryland residents are ranked 43rd on scale of generosity

Richest lag behind

Less affluent donate at higher levels than national averages

July 25, 1999|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Maryland, the nation's fifth-wealthiest state, is cheap when it comes to philanthropy -- particularly among its richest residents.

Considered a national leader in charity at the turn of this century, Maryland is entering the next near the bottom of the current measures of generosity.

Maryland ranks 43rd among the states this year on the Generosity Index -- a national survey that ranks states by income and charitable contributions. That's up from 44th the year before.

Within that parsimonious picture:

Maryland's richest taxpayers contribute proportionally less when compared with the rest of the country. In 1997, those who had more than $200,000 a year in adjusted gross income -- which averaged $483,660 -- claimed an average charitable deduction of $16,455. Nationally, those in the $200,000-plus income range -- with an average of $550,897 -- claimed charitable deductions averaging $20,398.

The United Way of Central Maryland is the 16th-largest in the country -- but its average donation of $195.74 trailed United Way chapters in large metropolitan areas last year. Its 1998 campaign raised $39.4 million, falling short of the $55 million to $60 million board members say a region like this one should be able to generate.

The individual giving gap shows up in donations to the state's nonprofit organizations, which receive only about 4 percent of their money from private giving -- compared with 10 percent nationally.

Marylanders who make less than $100,000 a year are actually giving slightly more than their counterparts around the country, IRS statistics show. But because those with more money are giving relatively less than the nation as a whole, the state's overall average trails the country's by more than $200.

If Maryland taxpayers making more than $100,000 a year gave at the national average for their income brackets, the extra contributions would generate about $200 mil- lion more for charity in one year -- enough, for example, to cover the Maryland Food Bank's annual $700,000 fund-raising budget for the better part of three centuries.

Individual charity is hard to measure. Internal Revenue Service statistics on charitable deductions don't capture some giving, such as informal boosts given to family, friends and neighbors. United Way giving is considered a good indicator because it covers so many workplaces.

But Maryland charity officials have begun a concerted effort to turn around the state's lackluster performance, winning a national grant to promote philanthropy through an awareness campaign called "The Giving Project." Later this summer, Maryland Gives! -- a task force trying to improve giving -- will release the results of a survey of donors and nondonors around the state.

"There have been individuals who've been extremely generous," says Timothy D. Armbruster, president of the Baltimore Community Foundation. "But for some reason, the kind of culture that says it's a requirement of citizenship to volunteer and give -- somehow that didn't take hold here."

Explanations for the giving gap are elusive.

The state, particularly Baltimore, has lost corporate headquarters -- taking away both fertile ground for giving campaigns and the leadership of strong CEOs.

Many Maryland residents work outside the state, dispersing their allegiances. Moreover, among the newly rich, big gains in the stock market or new companies have yet to produce a feeling that their money is "real" enough to give away.

No culture of giving

Most of all, philanthropy experts point to an ineffable but powerful thing called a "giving culture" -- something they say is missing in Maryland.

Robert S. Killebrew Jr., managing director of Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown, who has a family foundation with the Baltimore Community Foundation, which administers a variety of charitable funds, sees a marked difference in attitudes toward charity between Baltimore and his hometown in Tennessee.

"In August, everybody in Chattanooga quits and works for the United Fund," says Killebrew, who gives away 10 percent of his income. "It's not a question -- just everybody does that. The point is that giving is a habit, and it's an acquired habit."

Creating a public culture of giving takes vociferous advocacy from the top, say givers and researchers.

At one of this area's few national corporate headquarters -- Black & Decker Corp. in Towson -- Chief Executive Nolan D. Archibald gives mostly to the Mormon Church and to educational projects, says Barbara B. Lucas, a Black & Decker senior vice president in charge of philanthropy. Mormons typically give 10 percent of their incomes to the church.

But Archibald's charity is a quiet and private affair.

The chief executive, who made $4.35 million last year in salary, bonus and incentives and cashed in another $31.85 million in stock options, lives in Potomac and is notable for being less than visible in philanthropic affairs in the Baltimore community.

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