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'Tis Better To Give 

Breaking down Charlotte's charities

You can tell a lot about what a community values by looking at which local charities are thriving, which aren't and why.

Community giving as a whole is a good indicator as well. Charity Navigator, the country's largest independent charity evaluator, recently released the results of a study of giving in 30 cities and regional areas, including Charlotte.

According to the study, Charlotte charities are smaller than their counterparts in most other markets, which could indicate that Charlotteans are a bit on the stingy side. Among the 30 areas studied, Charlotte's charities were the eighth smallest in total assets and the sixth smallest in the revenues they took in. But they were on average also better run than most across the nation. Only charities in Detroit and Denver spent less on administration and overhead.

Charlotte's philanthropic community is focused on culture, religion and helping those in need, according to the report. About 75 percent of Charlotte's charities fall into those categories. The study also found that the charity marketplace here lacks the large educational or environmental institutions that have taken root in some other cities.

That's typical of most large and medium-sized cities across the country, said Charity Navigator's Director of External Relations Sandra Miniutti. The charities with the most connections to the wealthy and the corporate community -- as well as those that throw the best bashes for the right people -- seem to rake in the most dough both here and across the nation.

A study by Creative Loafing of local charities' most recent Internal Revenue Service 990 forms revealed that the two local charities with strong corporate connections and boards that read like a who's who of Charlotte blow by everyone else. The Foundation for the Carolinas on South Tryon Street showed a staggering $70 million in donations on its most recent tax forms. That organization in turn makes donations to other groups in Mecklenburg County and across the region that do everything from educational work to helping the poor to promoting diversity. The United Way of Central Carolinas, another umbrella charity organization, doles out its $38 million haul -- after taking an administrative cut -- to everyone from the Boy Scouts to ARC of Mecklenburg County, which advocates for the rights of people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities and their families.

The YMCA of Greater Charlotte and a host of arts and cultural groups round out the top of the list, with the Arts & Science Council and the Bible Broadcasting Network, a non-profit group of Christian radio stations, taking in over $11 million in donations each.

Arts and cultural groups like the Mint Museum, the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Discovery Place and WFAE, the county's NPR radio station, all take in about $3 million a year in donations. They compete with groups like the Charlotte Rescue Mission and Thompson Child & Family Focus, which have grittier missions that involve caring for the poor and the needy and receive nearly the same amount in donations.

Rounding out the bottom of the list, as far as donations go, are environmental groups like the Catawba Lands Conservancy and many of the groups that deal with Charlotte's most desperately needy people, sometimes standing as a barrier between them and life on the streets.

Those organizations, most of which get by on less than $2 million in donations a year, include Loaves & Fishes, Charlotte Center for Urban Ministry and the Uptown Shelter,

Miniutti says that pattern is typical across the nation.

These groups don't have the budgets for big corporate donation campaigns or lavish fund-raising parties, she said. And it can often be harder for groups that serve the poor to get individual donors excited about their mission, especially when they are competing against charities whose events sparkle more.

"Those events are a way for people to network and meet other people," said Miniutti.

Miniutti says giving to groups that help the less fortunate has been down across the nation for years, but that the images of poverty that filled the nation's television screens in the wake of Hurricane Katrina has led to a small spike in giving locally to the poor.

For the near future, Miniutti says umbrella fund-raising groups like the United Way will probably continue to dominate the fund-raising scene and split up the spoils among their chosen stable of charities. But that could begin changing, too. People have become skeptical of paying the overhead of organizations like United Way -- where 86 percent of your donation goes to charity, according to Charity Navigator -- and are beginning to make donations directly to their favorite charities over the Internet.

What We Value

A Sample Of Charlotte Region's Charities Ranked By The Public Donations They Receive*

Foundation for the Carolinas................................................................................. $69,735,884.00

United Way of Central Carolinas........................................................................... $37,871,711.00

YMCA of Greater Charlotte.................................................................................. $16,073,133.00

Bible Broadcasting Network.................................................................................. $11,417,638.00

Arts & Science Council......................................................................................... $11,085,786.00

Crisis Assistance Ministry....................................................................................... $5,088,124.00

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra................................................................................ $3,847,698.00

Mint Museum........................................................................................................... $3,775,002.00

Charlotte Rescue Mission........................................................................................ $3,556,794.00

Catholic Social Services.......................................................................................... $3,312,654.00

WFAE NPR Radio Station...................................................................................... $3,255,246.00

Thompson Child & Family Focus........................................................................... $3,294,003.00

Discovery Place....................................................................................................... $3,103,627.00

Make-A-Wish Foundation....................................................................................... $2,993,826.00

Habitat for Humanity............................................................................................... $2,187,206.00

North Carolina Dance Theatre................................................................................. $2,090,619.00

Charlotte Center for Urban Ministry....................................................................... $1,606,648.00

Loaves and Fishes.................................................................................................... $1,313,692.00

Catawba Lands Conservancy................................................................................... $1,420,422.00

Uptown Shelter........................................................................................................... $846,801.00

Friendship Trays......................................................................................................... $677,267.00

Humane Society of Charlotte..................................................................................... $463,494.00

Carolina Raptor Center............................................................................................... $371,463.00

*Donation numbers are from the most recent 990 tax forms filed and include direct and indirect public support.

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