Follow the money, and it will lead you to Dallas — which throws the richest annual fundraisers of their type for national charities, not to mention some humdingers for locals as well. The American Heart Association’s most successful Heart Walk is here, where it started, along with its highest-dollar, one-night event, the Côtes du Coeur International Fine Wine Auction & Celebrity Chef Dinner.
Two x Two for AIDS and Art, which is the biggest bonanza for both the Foundation for AIDS Research and the Dallas Museum of Art, raised a record-setting $8.6 million last year. Cattle Baron’s Ball has long been the American Cancer Society’s leading shindig, and the Salvation Army’s Doing the Most Good Luncheon is tops nationwide. Further, the Dallas Women’s Foundation’s $36 million bankroll embodies the largest regional women’s fund in the world. Black Tie Dinner is the leading U.S. fundraiser for the LGBT community, and North Texas Giving Day is consistently ranked No. 1, having racked up $33.1 million in 24 hours last September. And of course there is the Byron Nelson golf tournament, now sponsored by AT&T, which remains the PGA’s heavyweight fundraiser with net proceeds exceeding $143 million and benefiting area children since 1968.
Richard Fisher, former president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, has called Dallas “the American capital of philanthropy.” Key reasons? The city’s entrepreneurial spirit and a southern culture of looking out for friends and neighbors, according to philanthropy executives. It’s almost surprising, then, that together Dallas and Fort Worth rank eighth among America’s most generous cities, with its residents having devoted 3.6 percent of their income to charity in 2012, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. But it’s by far the most populated city in the top 10, a ranking led by Salt Lake City and rounded out exclusively with southern cities.
Can Dallas keep this up? It looks likely. Philanthropy is more top-of-mind for millennials than the over-35 set, according to an Aflac study that found 73 percent of Dallas millennials would be happier working for a business with a strong social responsibility program. “I see that group as being not only really involved but leading this in corporate America,” says Kit Sawers, chief development officer at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. “When companies are recruiting young people, those young people are interviewing the interviewers and asking, ‘What type of time off will you give me to do philanthropy work? What is your corporate engagement in the community?’ ”
Major corporations have also begun coordinating charitable projects in lieu of networking parties and dinners, Sawers says. Texas Instruments, Energy Future Holdings and La Quinta got together last Veterans Day to build a home for a veteran through Habitat for Humanity, she says. Philanthropy is on the rise at Bank of America, too, according to Gillian Breidenbach, senior vice president and North Texas market manager. In 2014, staff donated $814,589 to local nonprofits — which the bank matched — plus pledged $1,338,776 to United Way, both increases over 2013. Volunteer hours have been on the rise annually, as well, and are well over 150,000, Breidenbach says. “The individuals in this town are incredibly generous, and not just the names that we know from buildings,” she says. “Ironically, it seems that the people who make the least amount of money tend to give more percentage-wise. Folks with the lower-end jobs are giving $1,000 gifts.”
While organizations such as Crystal Charity Ball have continually groomed successive generations, other organizations have recently been forming groups for younger supporters, including Southwestern Medical Foundation last year, the Salvation Army DFW Metroplex Command in 2013 and the Wilkinson Center in 2011. Caroline Rose Hunt’s 19 grandchildren, who range from teens to mid-40s, honored her last fall by pledging $5 million to United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. The gift will come via payouts from two life-insurance policies jointly funded by all of the cousins. Separately, this group is also dispensing grants from the Moozie Foundation that Hunt established for them. The general focus is on vulnerable populations, says board member Haven Heinrichs. “We plan to add a junior board for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren who are underage but show interest in becoming involved.”
Brent Christopher, who disperses some $100 million annually as president of the Communities Foundation of Texas, believes giving will continue, but differently. “The old guard in Dallas has often made large investments in the welfare of the city that weren’t as restricted as some of the giving we see today,” he points out. “Younger generations of donors tend to make gifts in incremental stages tied to specific outcomes.” Millennials gravitate towards casual charity events and group projects more than formal balls, and there is a rise in family-friendly functions appealing to them and Gen Xers. “Charity balls aren’t going away anytime soon,” says Christopher, “but this growing number of young groups thrive on a more casual and more frequent portfolio of events.” Even Generation Z is on the job. Witness the grade-school children who have created their own charities — a fairly new phenomenon. Stella Wrubel, 10, caught the bug at 6 when she sold mistletoe to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy. With support from family and friends — especially pal Quinn Graves, also 10, Wrubel’s partner in the eventual enterprise Quinn & Stella’s Jingle Bell Mistletoe — she has since raised more than $66,000 for charity. For the 2015 drive, tony Highland Park Village matched the mistletoe sales dollar for dollar. “Now we have something to do at Christmas,” Wrubel says, “something to even start planning in the spring.”
By Holly Haber, illustrations by Rob Wilson