2020’s Most Generous U.S. Cities

Volunteers feeding the hungry at a soup kitchen

Amid this Season of Giving, generosity is needed more than ever with COVID-19 destroying the economic security of so many households.

Despite these tough times, Americans are stepping up. Philanthropy News Digest reports that “total donations made through June equaled 47.3% of total giving for all of 2019.”

But not all parts of the country give in equal measure. 

To rank the Most Generous Cities, LawnStarter compared the 150 biggest U.S. cities across 12 key indicators of philanthropic behavior, from volunteering rates to the prevalence of food banks. 

Where did your city land on our list?

Check out our ranking, the highlights and lowlights, and expert commentary below.

Table of Contents

  1. City Rankings
  2. Highlights and Lowlights
  3. Ask the Experts
  4. Methodology
  5. Why This Study Matters

City Rankings 

See how each city fared in our ranking:

Rank
CityOverall Score
1Minneapolis, MN59.31
2St. Paul, MN53.16
3Portland, OR52.88
4Salt Lake City, UT52.14
5Vancouver, WA50.77
6Boston, MA50.34
7Seattle, WA47.95
8Washington, DC47.43
9Tacoma, WA45.68
10Baltimore, MD44.03
11Rochester, NY43.75
12Pittsburgh, PA43.16
13Milwaukee, WI41.73
14Providence, RI41.35
15Anaheim, CA41.25
16Overland Park, KS41.07
17Cincinnati, OH40.25
18Yonkers, NY40.24
19St. Louis, MO39.87
20Oakland, CA37.62
21Cleveland, OH37.50
22Kansas City, MO37.22
23Raleigh, NC37.10
24St. Petersburg, FL36.61
25Indianapolis, IN36.46
26Chesapeake, VA36.36
27Huntington Beach, CA36.12
28San Francisco, CA36.11
29Norfolk, VA34.96
30Denver, CO34.44
31Fremont, CA34.23
32Mesa, AZ33.54
33Philadelphia, PA33.39
34Newport News, VA32.85
35Peoria, AZ32.68
36Detroit, MI32.01
37Buffalo, NY31.88
38Santa Ana, CA31.88
39Aurora, CO31.53
40Scottsdale, AZ31.25
41Aurora, IL31.18
42Newark, NJ30.69
43Fort Lauderdale, FL30.25
44New York, NY30.24
45Memphis, TN29.89
46Glendale, AZ29.72
47Tampa, FL29.61
48Birmingham, AL29.55
49Oceanside, CA29.45
50San Jose, CA29.39
51Louisville, KY29.27
52Jacksonville, FL29.12
53Nashville, TN29.08
54Irving, TX28.32
55Plano, TX28.29
56Columbus, OH28.28
57Sacramento, CA27.53
58Grand Prairie, TX27.47
59Frisco, TX27.42
60Jersey City, NJ27.25
61Gilbert, AZ27.07
62Chicago, IL26.85
63Tempe, AZ26.80
64San Bernardino, CA26.76
65Houston, TX26.29
66Atlanta, GA25.92
67Virginia Beach, VA25.88
68Orlando, FL25.68
69McKinney, TX25.66
70Charlotte, NC25.66
71Ontario, CA25.34
72Irvine, CA25.02
73Riverside, CA24.12
74Worcester, MA23.92
75Garland, TX23.68
76Arlington, TX23.59
77Long Beach, CA23.50
78Austin, TX23.37
79Chandler, AZ23.05
80Phoenix, AZ22.56
81San Diego, CA22.41
82Chula Vista, CA22.19
83New Orleans, LA22.02
84Miami, FL21.92
85Anchorage, AK21.46
86Oklahoma City, OK21.43
87Glendale, CA21.27
88Los Angeles, CA20.98
89Elk Grove, CA20.93
90Santa Rosa, CA20.66
91Fort Worth, TX20.64
92Dallas, TX19.94
93Salem, OR17.83
94Richmond, VA17.66
95Santa Clarita, CA17.47
96Grand Rapids, MI16.94
97Fontana, CA16.83
98Honolulu, HI16.81
99Rancho Cucamonga, CA16.29
100Madison, WI15.80
101Hialeah, FL15.39
102Tallahassee, FL15.38
103Toledo, OH15.26
104Spokane, WA14.86
105Moreno Valley, CA14.30
106Little Rock, AR13.66
107Las Vegas, NV13.22
108North Las Vegas, NV12.89
109Reno, NV12.31
110Akron, OH12.05
111San Antonio, TX12.01
112Winston-Salem, NC11.95
113Chattanooga, TN11.84
114Des Moines, IA11.64
115Modesto, CA11.57
116Port St. Lucie, FL11.37
117Oxnard, CA11.05
118Fort Wayne, IN10.89
119Lincoln, NE10.84
120Henderson, NV10.78
121Tucson, AZ10.72
122Durham, NC10.68
123Stockton, CA10.66
124Baton Rouge, LA10.29
125Knoxville, TN10.22
126Huntsville, AL10.00
127Omaha, NE10.00
128Boise City, ID8.99
129Albuquerque, NM8.96
130Sioux Falls, SD8.95
131Lexington, KY8.82
132Mobile, AL8.78
133Montgomery, AL8.55
134Augusta, GA8.41
135Cape Coral, FL8.25
136Colorado Springs, CO8.15
137Amarillo, TX7.51
138Bakersfield, CA7.43
139Tulsa, OK7.29
140Shreveport, LA7.24
141Greensboro, NC6.61
142Fresno, CA6.07
143Columbus, GA5.93
144Lubbock, TX5.65
145Corpus Christi, TX5.51
146Wichita, KS5.30
147Fayetteville, NC4.54
148El Paso, TX2.71
149Brownsville, TX2.07
150Laredo, TX0.86
Infographic detailing which states will be most impacted by the Biden Climate Plan. Factors include how many people use eco-friendly commuting options,

Highlights and Lowlights

Northwest is best 

With four of their cities in the top 10 of our ranking, the states of Washington and Oregon dominate our list. While cities like Portland and Seattle have solid numbers of volunteers and participation in local organizations, part of their high scores could be attributed to need. 

It’s no secret that the West Coast has a large homeless population, and with housing prices continuing to soar in the region, it’s doubtful the need will dissipate anytime soon.

Big cities, big needs

In general, larger cities rank higher on our list than smaller and midsize cities. Boston and Washington, for example, have higher volunteering rates and more nonprofit organizations. 

Plus, with increasing economic inequality, there’s often a greater need in larger cities for shelter beds, soup kitchens and food banks. Generosity tends to sprout where it’s most needed.

Southern inhospitality

Southern cities tended to do relatively poorly in our ranking. This is mostly due to the lack of available services. Cities like Lubbock, Texas, and Columbus, Georgia, have comparatively fewer numbers of donation centers, food banks and soup kitchens. 

That’s not to say the residents of these Southern cities aren’t generous, but the lack of services cuts down on volunteer opportunities and on ways to address community needs. 

Ask The Experts

We all want to create a better world with our donations, but none of us knows what the future holds, especially with the pandemic raging and lines at food banks growing longer. LawnStarter asked some experts to help us all understand how we can give smarter to help create that brighter future. Read their insightful answers below.

  • How can local governments encourage residents to give back to their communities?
  • For those who can’t donate money, what are the best ways to show generosity toward others?
  • What are the best ways to vet charities and other nonprofit organizations?
  • How have changes in tax law covering charitable donations affected giving? Is this why charities are moving to monthly donations by credit cards?
  • During the pandemic, where are volunteers needed the most?
  • How will the pandemic affect giving in the future?
Brad R. Fulton
Associate Professor
Alexandra Graddy-Reed
Assistant Professor of Public Policy
Dr. Susan A. MacManus
Distinguished University Professor Emerita
Mo Cuevas, PhD, LCSW
Professor, Worden School of Social Services
Brad R. Fulton
Associate Professor
Indiana University

How can local governments encourage residents to give back to their communities?

Make people aware of the social needs, how much it will cost to meet those needs, and suggest a range that people should consider giving.

For those who can’t donate money, what are the best ways to show generosity toward others?

Volunteering and in-kind donations.

What are the best ways to vet charities and other nonprofit organizations?

Charity Navigator 

How have changes in tax law covering charitable donations affected giving? Is this why charities are moving to monthly donations by credit cards?

The biggest change/drawback for individual giving is the increase in the standard deduction.

During the pandemic, where are volunteers needed the most?

Distributing resources.

How will the pandemic affect giving in the future?

People who are able to give are more likely to give.

Alexandra Graddy-Reed
Assistant Professor of Public Policy
University of Southern California

How can local governments encourage residents to give back to their communities?

A number of states offer tax credits to incentivize charitable giving within their communities, typically for specific topics like education or community development. However, we find these incentives are  not effective at increasing donations

In terms of giving back to the community more generally, local governments can also host service days, food/toy drives, and donation matching campaigns. Local governments have also been experimenting with crowd funding for local projects with some success.

For those who can’t donate money, what are the best ways to show generosity toward others?

Time is often more valuable than money — volunteering, especially in the pandemic when many people have stopped their usual volunteering — is vital for many organizations. Stocking food pantry shelves, giving blood, and offering your skills like sewing or writing are great examples. Sharing about organizations and their needs through social media is also a great way to help out at no cost.

What are the best ways to vet charities and other nonprofit organizations?

First, the best way is by volunteering with the organization — see their operations firsthand, site visits are another great option to confirm the organization is well run and program-focused.

If you can’t vet the charity in person, sites such as Charity Navigator provide some key metrics to make sure the charity is financially sustainable and following proper accountability practices. Review a charity’s website and its annual report to get a sense of its activities and how it measures and report its impact. 

For those with an accounting eye, you can review their Form 990s — the annual reporting form for charities to the IRS. This will let you see their financial breakdowns in more detail.

How have changes in tax law covering charitable donations affected giving? Is this why charities are moving to monthly donations by credit cards?

I don’t see why the recent tax law changes would have caused the push to monthly donations. Monthly donations are predictable so they provide the charity with more stability and the ability to plan their annual revenues better.

Because of the pandemic, charities have had to stop most in-person fundraisers and so pushing online giving is a means to make up some of that loss.

During the pandemic, where are volunteers needed the most?

Volunteering with your local food bank or food pantry, sewing reusable masks, checking in on seniors, and handing out or delivering food to students and seniors are all high needs now.

Another high need is around virtual volunteering — as schools remain closed for many, students are losing out on vital socialization and education. Volunteering as a virtual tutor or baby-sitter to interact with kids is a great gift to provide. 

How will the pandemic affect giving in the future?

Always hard to predict — we will be dealing with the pandemic and its aftermath, both from a health and an economic standpoint for years.

As many foundations pivot to focus on alleviating these issues, there will be cuts to other areas of need. Minimizing these gaps to other areas will be key.

Dr. Susan A. MacManus
Distinguished University Professor Emerita
University of South Florida

How can local governments encourage residents to give back to their communities?

Use social media, TV news, and public service announcements (PSAs) to highlight people and areas in need of citizens’ help. Be diverse in individuals, neighborhoods, and causes selected to focus on. Inform citizens on how and when to help — contribute time, money, food, clothing, etc.

Highlight success stories of volunteerism efforts — from perspective of the needy served, from perspective of volunteer(s). Spotlight real people in need, and howeveryday citizens come to the rescue. Awards and certificate events are also effective.

For those who can’t donate money, what are the best ways to show generosity toward others?

Give of your time and talents. Focus on acts of kindness to those who are lonely, forgotten, and ignored — a phone call, a card, a handwritten note or drawing, sing songs or play music, offer to read, take a walk, share a good story, make a cake, bring a pet, offer to go to the grocery for them.

It’s the simple things that so many people take for granted that are missing in needy people’s lives.

It’s also important to feature givers of all ages and from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.

Feature recipients filled with joy and gratitude at unexpected help from both friends and strangers.

What are the best ways to vet charities and other nonprofit organizations?

Determine whether your state or local government requires an annual financial report from a nonprofit organization and makes the report readily available to the public.

If so, check to see what proportion of the group’s finances are spent for overhead rather than direct aid. Check with the local Better Business Bureau to see if there have been complaints filed against the organization.

If itt is possible, talk to individuals who have volunteered with the organization over the years and ask why they continue to do so. Likewise, talk to individuals who have benefited from help from the organization and identify how it made them feel.  

How have changes in tax law covering charitable donations affected giving? Is this why charities are moving to monthly donations by credit cards? 

I am not very familiar with the tax code, but monthly donations by credit card fits the spending patterns of most Americans. It also allows the charity to ask a person to give “only $xx a month,” then stress overall result by year’s end.  For example: Give $5 per month to feed xx hungry children.

During the pandemic, where are volunteers needed the most?

Anywhere that is serving the most basic needs of people that are being negatively impacted by the pandemic –food, clothing, housing, health care (including mental health), child care, transportation, and job fairs.

How will the pandemic affect giving in the future? 

That depends on whether the contributor believes the gift was well utilized and very helpful in reaching the individuals in need.

Mo Cuevas, PhD, LCSW
Professor, Worden School of Social Services
Our Lady of the Lake University

How can local governments encourage residents to give back to their communities?

By making the community aware of the needs and helping to make it easy to participate or give.

Through a website dedicated to the issues at hand, or a media campaign that focuses on the highest need areas, the local governments can present issues to the community and suggest ways for community members to participate in the resolution of these concerns.

For those who can’t donate money, what are the best ways to show generosity toward others?

Volunteer. There are so many ways to help that are not financial. Read to children in Early Head Start, visit the elderly and deliver meals through Meals on Wheels, or mentor a youth member through the Boys and Girls Club. Sometimes the gift of time is more important than a financial contribution.

Find out the major needs in your community and see how you can address them. Visit a social service agency and see what volunteer opportunities they have. Make yourself available and open to different possibilities.

Besides helping the agency, it will help you feel more connected to the community and actually has been shown to positively impact your health.

What are the best ways to vet charities and other nonprofit organizations?

There are several ways to vet charities and other organizations.

The first one is to see if they receive funding from United Way. United Way has a very detailed and comprehensive vetting process, so if an agency receives funds from them you can most likely be sure that they are an agency using their funds effectively and for the good of their client population.

A second way is to look at the financials of the charity. How much does the executive director make? Is it comparable to other agencies in the area? How much of their funding goes to direct services to clients? Are the administrative costs high in comparison?

And then spend a few hours there and see how they run. Don’t necessarily do anything, just observe. This will tell you a lot about how they function and how well they serve their population.

How have changes in tax law covering charitable donations affected giving? Is this why charities are moving to monthly donations by credit cards?

Not being able to deduct as much due to the changes in the tax laws is a determent to people donating, but if you get to know the charity you’re interested in, that might not be so much of an issue.

Monthly donations by credit card makes donating simpler. I think that making it easy for people to donate helps charities be more efficient. 

During the pandemic, where are volunteers needed the most?

I would say that this depends on your community. Food banks always need assistance. There are many more people requesting help because of the pandemic, so this is a good place to start. 

But there are other places that need more help as well.

Check out your local animal shelter. People abandon their pets when money is tight, and the shelter needs folks to assist with those pets who have recently lost their homes.

Finally, check out homeless shelters. There are folks in those shelters now that never would have imagined they would end up there a year ago. Evictions are happening due to employment loss. See what those folks need and how you might help at the shelters.

Maybe you have advice to give to clients. Maybe you can help serve meals. There’s lots of need, so there will be something you can do.

How will the pandemic affect giving in the future?

I think it depends on how each individual responds to the crisis.

If someone has donated or volunteered during the pandemic, I would hope that that effort would continue.

Others might feel that they can’t afford the time, energy or money to do anything, or feel that they need to hold their money closer to home.

I think the reaction will be split. Some folks will have recognized the need and will continue to support those causes. Others will not and will feel that they need to focus more on their immediate family and friends.

Both are appropriate responses. I think the pandemic will just emphasize how much we need to make people aware of the needs and remind them that they will continue after the crisis is over.

Methodology

Using the most recently available data, LawnStarter compared the generosity of the 150 biggest U.S. cities across 12 key indicators of philanthropic behavior: 

FactorWeightingMin ValueMax Value
Share of Residents Who Volunteer8.3318.7046.30
Share of Residents Who Do Favors for Neighbors8.3336.0068.70
Share of Residents Who Do Something Positive for the Neighborhood8.3310.9032.90
Share of Residents Who Participate in Local Groups or Organizations8.3314.0043.40
Share of Residents Who Donate $25 or More to Charity8.3336.7074.10
Nonprofit Organizations per 100,000 Residents8.332.9016.60
Shelter Beds per 100,000 Residents8.330.00940.43
Housing Beds per 100,000 Residents8.330.002443.48
Soup Kitchens per 100,000 Residents8.330.003.34
Animal Shelters per 100,000 Residents8.330.3839.67
Donation Centers per 100,000 Residents8.330.007.03
Food Banks per 100,000 Residents8.330.1819.92

We ranked the cities in descending order based on their individual score totals. The city that scored the highest ranked No. 1, or “most generous.”

Limitations

Data for the first five metrics listed above was not available for 51 cities in our sample. However, none of these cities were penalized in our ranking for the lack of available data.

Sources: AmeriCorps, Governing, Soup Kitchen 411 Inc., U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Yelp

Why This Study Matters

In the weeks before the holidays, we are giving gifts — maybe more homemade and certainly more bought online this year — and likely taking special care of family members and friends who are out of work.

But generosity isn’t seasonal, and the need is greater now because of the pandemic. After months of joblessness, food banks are swamped, some nonprofits are starved for volunteers, and homeless people need a hand up (which is more life-changing than a hand out). 

The need for food, shelter, and, yes, generosity, is expected to grow more dire as pandemic-related unemployment benefits expire for 14 million Americans at the end of December. 

Wherever your city landed on our list of the Most Generous Cities, you can make a difference in your community now and in the weeks and months ahead. 

LawnStarter’s co-founders instill in employees the Power of 1. One person, raising the bar by 1%, makes a difference. If everyone exercises the Power of 1 in his or her community, all of the cities in our listing will be more generous this time next year.

Main Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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Staff Writer