The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
November 21, 2016

An unexpected leader in international charity: The Twin Cities

November 18, 2016

The Twin Cities area is not one of the first places that come to mind when I think of major hubs for nonprofits working in foreign affairs, but it should be. Out of 50 metros, the Minneapolis–St. Paul area tied with the Seattle area for having the 10th-highest number of internationally focused nonprofits in the country in 2013–14. Almost half of the area’s foreign affairs nonprofits reported growth in gross receipts, or the sum of funds it took in from all sources, over the same period.

However, the extent to which these nonprofits’ gross receipts grew had an intriguing link to the Twin Cities themselves: the nonprofits with connection to the East African countries of origin of the area’s many immigrants reported the greatest growth.

Which nonprofits saw the biggest growth?

Eighty-three percent of Twin Cities–area foreign affairs nonprofits that reported higher gross receipts are so-called big winners, posting growth exceeding 10 percent. While some of those are small nonprofits whose gross receipts grew by relatively small dollar amounts, some large nonprofits experienced high levels of growth with much higher dollar figures.  

Looking at the largest big winners, six organizations had gross receipts over $1 million. While the organizations had differing service goals—from connecting Minnesota’s new refugees and immigrants with valuable services and resources to combating torture—all but one had a connection to the people of Somalia, Kenya, or Ethiopia, whether serving them in the United States or abroad.

Most of the growth in gross receipts for these five organizations came from private donations. National Center for Charitable Statistics data from the organizations’ Form 990 tax filings show they pulled in approximately $7.7 million more in gross receipts in 2014 than 2013. Of those new funds, private donations made up $5.7 million; government contributions grew by only approximately $800,000.

Does the immigrant community fund these nonprofits?

While we don’t know if the East African immigrant community is funding these nonprofits, it is probable. Minnesota’s large (and primarily East African) African-born immigrant community contributes an estimated $14 million to philanthropy in the state.

A US Census Bureau analysis shows that the Minneapolis–St. Paul area is home to an estimated 64,000 African-born immigrants, making up 20 percent of the area’s foreign-born population, nearly half of whom are from Ethiopia and Somalia. The area’s estimated 6,000 Kenyan-born immigrants compose the highest concentration of Kenyan-born residents in the country, though refugees are disproportionately of Somali descent.

These diasporic communities have an established history of being financially involved with their countries of origin or descent. The Ethiopian diaspora in the United States sent $181 million to Ethiopia; the Somali diaspora in the United States sent $215 million to Somalia. It would not be surprising, particularly with increasingly intense regulation on remittances to Somalia, if large service nonprofits were becoming a choice means to aid their communities.

Although we don’t know what is causing growth in private giving to large Twin Cities–area international nonprofits, there are many reasons to believe that it is connected to the people who live there. Like many other nonprofits, local context is crucial, and being a winner seems to be aligned with being relevant to on-the-ground concerns and needs abroad and in US communities.

So while it may sound novel, it seems that even foreign affairs nonprofits may be in many ways surprisingly local. 

Photo via Shutterstock
 

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