New rankings this month confirm what many Minnesotans already boast: The state is among the most generous ones in the nation.
This year, Minnesota was deemed the most charitable state in the U.S. by personal finance website WalletHub, which ranked 19 traits — from the volunteer rate to the percentage of people donating money. It follows fundraising website GoFundMe, which declared Minnesota the ninth most generous state based on the number of donations per capita to its site in 2019.
"I'm not surprised we're at the top of the charts; we have a long legacy of having a very generous state," said Kris Kewitsch, executive director of the Charities Review Council in St. Paul. "We're living up to that legacy."
Across Minnesota, the nonprofit sector is booming. The state has the highest number of nonprofit employees in its history — 385,000 workers, or 13.3% of the state's total workforce, according to a report released last month by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. Nonprofit employee wages have been on pace with government wages the past two years. And some of the state's largest nonprofits are undergoing top leadership changes.
While individual giving declined nationwide in 2018, according to the annual Giving USA report, Minnesota's unofficial "giving holiday," Give to the Max Day, drew a record $21.6 million last month for nonprofits and schools.
"There's a lot of interest in this in the field," Jon Pratt, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, said of the WalletHub and GoFundMe lists. "It's a little bit of Minnesota exceptionalism. … There is a public spirit. You can't be in Minnesota too long before you get fundraising appeals or invitations to events."
Experts say this month's rankings reinforce the state's strong philanthropic sector and show that Minnesotans aren't above average just for how much money they give but how much time they spend volunteering. In fact, earlier this year, Minneapolis-St. Paul took first among large U.S. cities for the number of AmeriCorps volunteers it has, while the state ranked second among states, according to the federal agency that administers the program.
The WalletHub list also better quantifies the state's generosity rather than relying on itemized tax return data from the IRS, since many taxpayers may not itemize charitable deductions — especially with new tax code changes that raised the standard deduction. Minnesota is one of two states that allow nonitemized charitable deductions, which 439,700 taxpayers did in 2018, up 93% from 2017, according to the state Department of Revenue.
Online giving to sites like GoFundMe also blur the lines of charitable giving, Kewitsch added, with some people giving to individuals in online crowdfunding, which is more difficult to track, instead of to registered nonprofits.
Minnesotans also have bragging rights with border state rivals: Wisconsin and Iowa didn't make GoFundMe's Top 10 list, while Wisconsin took No. 17 and Iowa placed No. 41 on WalletHub's list of most generous states.
Experts say that could be because Minnesota, home to 17 of the Fortune 500's largest companies, has many wealthy families who started long-standing philanthropic foundations, and residents are more civically engaged than others, with the state routinely topping the nation in overall voter turnout and recording the second-highest mail participation rate in the 2010 census (trailing Wisconsin).
While there are nearly 38,000 nonprofits registered with the Secretary of State's Office, many may not be financially active; the Council of Nonprofits counts more than 9,000 nonprofits with at least one employee — from social services agencies to massive health care companies. But despite all the charitable giving and nonprofit work, the state still has wide racial disparities and a record high number of homeless people.
"It's not just about philanthropy that can fix those ills," Kewitsch said. "What does it take to really put a dent in that gap?"
Kari Aanestad, the advancement director at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, added that the sector is "small but mighty" but still can't tackle societal issues alone.
"We're expecting 13% of the workforce to solve homelessness," she said. "We need a full community participating to tackle some of society's biggest and more complicated challenges."