What’s the best city for philanthropy? The Chronicle of Philanthropy put that question to its readers and nonprofit watchers, asking them via social media to pick the place that is a model of charitable giving.
When votes were tallied, Tulsa, Okla., emerged the winner.
“I believe Tulsa is unique in many ways,” wrote Lynn Jones, a retired police officer and active community volunteer. She says that whenever a problem emerges, funders step up, check the national landscape, and move purposefully and responsibly, often with success. She points to philanthropy-backed health efforts that have increased life expectancy in low-income neighborhoods; programs for housing the mentally ill that have won national acclaim; and arts groups that have strong backing.
The economic health of Tulsa, known as the oil capital of the world, ebbs and flows with the fortunes of the energy industry, but its charitable giving is generally reliable. Residents gave away nearly $867 million in itemized donations in 2016, or 5.3 percent of the average income, according to federal tax data. That’s the 50th highest total of the country’s nearly 400 metro areas, according to a Chronicle analysis.
Giving to Tulsa’s United Way reached almost $26 million last year, just $5 million shy of the giving total to the United Way of New York City — even though metro Tulsa’s population doesn’t even top 1 million.
Tulsa’s major philanthropists set the pace for giving, with big investments in both the area and the work of the city’s nonprofits. The late entrepreneur Henry Zarrow and his wife, Anne, established what is now one of Oklahoma’s biggest grant makers and targeted a lot of their funds to help Tulsa social-service groups, improve mental health, and lift people out of poverty. Last year, their foundation made a $6.7 million grant to the local Habitat for Humanity and opened a new building to house area social-service nonprofits.