Charitable Capital of the World

Why Utah is the charitable capital of the world

As this magazine comes off the press, The Philanthropy Roundtable is holding our 2014 Annual Meeting in the charitable capital of the world.

The United States is by far the most charitable of all major countries. And Utah is by far the most charitable of all American states. In 2011, according to the Urban Institute, itemizing taxpayers in Utah gave an amazing 4.8 percent of their adjusted gross income to charity, more than twice the national average of 2.1 percent. No other state came close. Our conference in Salt Lake City offers an outstanding opportunity to observe how our nation would be transformed by a doubling of charitable giving.

Utah is charitable for the same reasons America is charitable: Utahns are religious, they are entrepreneurial wealth-creators, and they understand the crucial connections between charitable giving and the strengthening of our free society.

Salt Lake City is also one of the nation’s leaders in upward mobility, according to a pathbreaking study published last year by Harvard economist Raj Chetty and colleagues. Strong families in Utah are an important contributor: Chetty found that the greatest obstacle to upward mobility in America is the proportion of children growing up in single-parent homes. The emphasis on self-reliance in Utah and the state motto of “Industry” also encourage economic improvement. The Mormon welfare system, which doesn’t take a dime of government funding, combines work requirements with extraordinarily generous support to people in need to help them move to self-reliance.

Philanthropists of all faiths, and none, can learn from the tithing, fast offering, and volunteer traditions among Mormons, which help to make possible the LDS Church’s extraordinary network of food warehouses, remarkably low tuitions at Brigham Young University, and an exciting new venture teaching entrepreneurship in developing countries.

And as in the rest of America, giving in Utah enables civil society to flourish. Thanks to private giving, Utah has a vibrant arts community, including the Sundance Film Festival, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and one of America’s best Shakespeare theaters. The University of Utah is consistently among the top 20 state universities in charitable support. Utah leads the nation in the percentage of children who participate in Boy Scouts. At our Annual Meeting, we are awarding the William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership to Jon M. Huntsman Sr., lead funder of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, steward of one of the world’s most comprehensive genetic databases.

Other highlights of our Annual Meeting include remarks by columnist and Fox News commentator George Will; Hobby Lobby president Steve Green describing his plans to build a world-class museum of the Bible; Jeff and Laura Sandefer on their revolutionary one-room-schoolhouse model combining project-based learning, apprenticeships, and students as teachers; and Eric Greitens and Jake Wood, who are mobilizing the amazing capabilities of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as leaders in civilian life.

Our Annual Meeting is closing with an inspiring dinner session on “How Philanthropy Changed My Life.”

Jason Tejada, a Children’s Scholarship Fund recipient, is opening the evening. One of more than 139,000 low-income students who have benefitted from privately funded CSF scholarships, Jason attended Incarnation School in upper Manhattan thanks to a CSF scholarship, and later graduated from Columbia University after surviving non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He now works in finance in New York and is mentoring students at Incarnation.

Our next speaker is Jack Horner, curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies and one of the scientists portrayed in the movie Jurassic Park. Jack’s Hell Creek Project, largely underwritten by philanthropy, led to fossil discoveries that have significantly advanced our understanding of the growth of dinosaurs. As the Roundtable’s forthcoming Almanac of American Philanthropy shows, many of the boldest initiatives in scientific discovery have been funded by private giving. Here’s a great TED talk by Jack, seen by 2 million viewers: “Building a Dinosaur from a Chicken,” available at TED.com.

Closing our evening is Brent Adams, who founded the animation department at Brigham Young University. This award-winning launch pad for creative talent was made possible by philanthropy. Graduates of Brent’s program are now influencing current culture at industry giants such as Pixar and Disney as well as startups in the new media space.

Our speakers embody this wisdom from the winner of our William E. Simon Prize, Jon M. Huntsman Sr.: “Selfless giving unto others represents one’s true wealth.”

Adam Meyerson is president of The Philanthropy Roundtable.