The resurgent economy, extended tax cuts for the wealthiest residents, and even Pope Francis’ appeals for a more egalitarian spirit of giving have yet to entice more Los Angeles County residents to dig into their pockets to assist the less fortunate.
That finding has been regularly upheld for years by the numerous county and private charitable organizations who by the month make a plea to get people to contribute their money, time and expertise toward assisting community members in need. However, the disappointing statistics in charitable contributions have not discouraged service organizations in the Antelope Valley from hitting the streets and collecting money for goods and services, and one of the most popular events in recent years has been the “Brass Butt” charity motorcycle ride in Palmdale.
Ride for charity next week
Sponsored by the South Antelope Valley Emergency Services (SAVES) department, the yearly event is gaining popularity as it strives to provide emergency assistance to families in need in the South Antelope Valley. They’ll crank up the “hogs” on Oct. 11 beginning at 8:30 a.m. at Camacho Auto Sales, 412 Auto Drive in the Palmdale Auto Mall, and travel about 165 miles throughout the Antelope Valley and into Tehachapi while marveling at the changing shades, shadows and scenery of early fall in the desert.
Participants will pay a nominal fee ($25 per rider and $20 per passenger in advance), and you can pay that morning from 8 to 9 p.m. at the car dealership. But the price increases to $30 ($25 per passenger) after Oct. 5. The Brass Butt ride will take participants through some of the most beautiful country in the entire state. The restaurant El Carbonero will provide a catered lunch and some lucky participants may receive a cash prize including a single allotment of $300, four cash prizes of $100 and another four valued at $50 each. Riders may also earn additional “opportunity tickets” by making the designated stops along the route and drawing for prizes there. “Four-wheel” (cars) participants are invited to participate in the charity event.
SAVES assists the less fortunate
Last year the event welcomed 60 riders and raised more than $10,000 for SAVES; the goal this year is to have at least 115 riders and bring in a minimum of $13,000.
“If it’s October, it’s Brass Butt month,” said Terri-Lei Wheeler, Palmdale housing coordinator and a committee member for the event. “Come out for a fun ride filled with beautiful scenery, great weather, great food and exciting prizes all for a great cause. Even if you don’t ride a motorcycle, we invite you to participate by riding along in your car.”
SAVES was established in 1983 to offer assistance to individuals and families who may be experiencing a temporary emergency situation. Last year, the organization provided more than 81,800 meals to local families in need, and served more than 52,500 meals to area seniors. The holiday season last year saw the organization provide 300 Thanksgiving baskets, 360 Christmas baskets and an additional 160 toy baskets.
Despite the good will demonstrated by SAVES and dozens more charitable organizations in the Antelope Valley and surrounding areas, charitable giving in Los Angeles County lags far behind most other regions of its size. In fact, charitable giving within the county still has not returned to pre-recession levels, according to a report released about a year ago from the Center for Civil Society at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs. Because individuals, nonprofit organizations and philanthropic leaders are not donating time and resources as much as they once did, consequently the county is maintaining a reputation as a poor performer in terms of charitable giving.
Local nonprofits struggling
The report shows that overall support for county nonprofit organizations has demonstrated only incremental growth after a significant dip following the onset of the Great Recession. Considerable volatility in major gifts and general giving patterns, as well as the effects of the economic recovery, are still not being evenly distributed. What’s more, the county’s naturalized citizens were likely to make more charitable contributions than the U.S.-born population here. If immigrants have resided in the county for at least 20 years, the report revealed that this population was just as likely as native-born persons to donate money and time for charity.
“Charitable giving is greatly influenced by economic expansions and contractions” said Paul Ong, an urban planning professor at UCLA. “Some trends are discouraging, as large swaths of the county are underperforming in terms of charitable giving.” Ong said the one bright spot in the findings was the rate of improved giving among foreign-born residents. “That could be a silver lining in what has been a disappointing [output] of charitable giving locally.”
The report notes that the county’s numerous nonprofit organizations are having trouble raising more money through individual donations. The report further added that the age-old generational transfer of wealth, changing views of philanthropy, the continued financial squeeze on the middle class and uneven economic growth are, apparently, changing the way people donate. Some key findings of the report include:
—Forty percent of county residents report that they donate to charity primarily through religious organizations;
—Whites and Asians are more likely to donate to charity than African Americans or Latinos (despite the fact that the growing Latino population is largely situated in one area—such as South and East Los Angeles. This makes them more likely to donate to charities in those areas;
—Individual giving patterns reflect growing income inequality. High income areas are contributing more in actual dollars but less in terms of the percentage of their income donated to charity;
—County residents tend to donate more outside of the region than they do within it.
Historic transfer of wealth
In 2013, the California Community Foundation (CCF) reported that L.A. County is beginning an historic trillion-dollar transfer of wealth that could transform the non-profit sector. The report indicated that financial sustainability has been a “hand-to-mouth” existence for most county non-profits in both good times and bad. County residents are reported to have an estimated net worth of almost $1.3 trillion, and in five years they will reportedly transfer about $114 billion between generations (i.e. inheritances) and by 2060 this figure is expected to balloon to an estimated $1.4 trillion. Essentially, there is plenty of money held by county residents who are increasingly deciding to “keep it in the family” rather than to donate it to charitable organizations.
The stark divide between wealthy and poor county residents continues to grow, a fact that according to the report is having a measurable affect on charitable giving in more ways than the obvious. The CCF report revealed that the top six percent of county households (a little more than 19,500) has almost one-third of the county’s wealth, or an average of $21 million per household. These households, however, are said to be “unprepared” for philanthropy because 79 percent of the individuals do not have any established charitable giving [destinations] and 53 percent have no philanthropic provisions in their estates. More than 72 percent of the children of wealthy families are not involved in the family’s charitable decisions. Consequently, the “next” generation may not be as involved in or will be less concerned about giving
National charities avoid L.A. County
Los Angeles County reportedly has a reputation as “uncoordinated” and “unwieldy” when it comes to philanthropy. Therefore, national charities tend to avoid the area because there is no consistent delivery of needed funds. Major groups like the United Way, Catholic Charities, United Negro College Fund, etc. simply skip L.A. County and go elsewhere for donations and/or contributions. Of the large metro regions awarded grants from the top 50 U.S. foundations, Los Angeles in 2009 received about $781 million while New York City received $1.5 billion, San Francisco ($943 million) and Boston metro ($716 million). Only five percent of the top 100 companies headquartered in L.A. County have formalized their philanthropy through a foundation.
The Center on Philanthropy in 2009 conducted a panel study and revealed that L.A. County was home to roughly 254,300 households with a net worth of just above $1 million; nearly 20,000 families had a networth in excess of $10 million. The study outlined the growing levels of either extreme wealth or abject poverty countywide with more than 1.25 million families (38.2 percent) with zero or negative transferable networth—that represents two out of every five households. The top six percent of county households control almost one-third of the county’s wealth ($21 million per family). The study pointed further to a troubling trend in that these wealthy households are not distributing to charity in proportion to their holdings.
“Wealth could leave the county,” the report stated. “People who have wealth to share in L.A. County may not leave it to anyone or business. This includes charitable donations to local organizations they believe that are strongly connected to the county.” The report added that people who inherit wealth in the county are opting more to move away and “… connect with organizations and causes they care about there. They may not understand the great impact charitable giving has on a community, cause or organization in L.A. County.”
More donations sent elsewhere
Last year the State of the Nonprofit Sector in Los Angeles Report seemed to confirm that L.A. County residents contribute to only a small fraction of total spending on human services, education, health services, and arts and culture. Residents donate about $6 billion annually which is only roughly equal to what the county pays in public assistance ($6.5 billion) but also the entire Los Angeles Unified School District budget ($6.6 billion). Again, the report indicated that L.A. County exports far more philanthropic dollars than it distributes locally. Forty-one percent of local grant dollars went to local nonprofits, but 31 percent went to nonprofits in other parts of California and the remaining 27 percent simply went out of state.