Money in the bank

Houston sinks to No. 9 among charitable cities, but is the list accurate?

Houston sinks to No. 9 among charitable cities, but is the list accurate?

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Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Grand Gala Ball 2010 Photo by Gary Fountain

Houston philanthropists have long kept well-padded the wallets of myriad non-profits, so it comes as a bit of a surprise that The Daily Beast has ranked our hometown at No. 9 in its recently-released list of the "25 Most Charitable Cities."

We beg to differ: With Houston's roster of Fortune 500 companies, robust cultural scene and vibrant socially-minded non-profits, this city ranks much higher when it comes to charitable citizens. And considering that we've triumphed over the recession better than some of those ranked above us (Kansas City, Portland), we can't help but call this slick slideshow into question.

To conduct its study, the Beast probed 2006 to 2008 data from The Foundation Center to determine which city's foundations donate the most dollars per year on average. Tax data from 2004 to 2006 compiled by the National Center for Charitable Statistics was also taken into consideration to determine where households donate the most per year, based on cents-per-dollar earned of adjusted gross income. Lastly, the reporters interpreted which cities have the most yearly volunteers per capita with 2007 to 2009 data provided by VolunteeringInAmerica.gov. The Beast believes this three-prong approach provides an equitable view of how the rich, the middle class and volunteers impact charity.

Not so fast, Beastie: According to non-profit Charity Navigator, Houston has one of the healthiest and most effective charity markets in the country, moving to second place from third last year. That ranking considered levels of expenses, fundraising efficiency, revenue growth, total assets, contributions and privacy policies at the large charities in the 30 biggest cities around the country. Houston ranked second for having above-average standards in almost every category, showing special strength in revenue growth, total contributions, and percentage that administrative expenses take from a charity.

To gain insight on Daily Beast's spin, we spoke with Carrie Moffitt, CEO of Volunteer Houston, the city's largest clearing house for volunteerism. She explains,

We don't do a very good job of telling the rest of the nation just how much charity we do, both volunteering and contributions. Nobody is recording it — instead, everybody has their own circles where they're doing good, so it's hard to get a complete picture of what happens. For that reason, we sometimes get ranked down the road nationally since none of us have our act together."

Indeed, the Daily Beast's set of statistics may not match up to what really goes on in Houston.

"I'm always skeptical about these national statistics," says Moffitt. "They're aggregated facts, and I don't think they're necessarily true. I can tell you that one-quarter of a million visitors use our website each year to locate volunteer opportunities."

She also cites the large number of non-profits and that we have the nation's largest churches, with effective charitable branches.

"It seems that charity is built into the life of everybody here," she adds. "It's expected to do service. Everybody feels the need to contribute."

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