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Originally published Monday, December 27, 2004 at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

Charitable giving is back, with an activist twist

The end of the year is traditionally the peak season for charitable giving and the good news is that, after a few slow years, contributions are on the rebound here in King County...

Special to The Times

The end of the year is traditionally the peak season for charitable giving and the good news is that, after a few slow years, contributions are on the rebound here in King County and nationally. Some exciting changes are also emerging in how people give, with the goal of maximizing their impact.

First, let's look at the numbers. While giving is expected to be up almost 6 percent across the country, some of our notable local nonprofits are projecting even larger increases. According the Chronicle of Philanthropy's estimates, private support of the United Way of King County will be up by 17 percent, the University of Washington by 34 percent and the Children's Hospital Foundation by 42 percent.

As president and CEO of the Seattle Foundation, I have seen gifts to nonprofits by our donors surge 45 percent this year. Additionally, more individuals and families set up philanthropic funds for future giving at the Seattle Foundation than in any other year since our founding in 1946.

A new trend in philanthropy in 2004 is that donors are increasingly including civic and social change strategies in supporting the issues they care about. In addition to their traditional giving, donors are working to advance their causes through a powerful mix of activism, community organizing and political contributions. Record political contributions are an obvious highlight of 2004, but it is also playing out in a less-partisan and political fashion.

Seattle Foundation donor Maryanne Tagney Jones has long supported the preservation of open space. This year, her work for the environment took a new tack. Making a contribution to Earthday Network, she helped to recruit a nontraditional group of environmental advocates: Latino agricultural workers in Eastern Washington. Through education about pesticide use and a voter-registration drive, workers were empowered to become advocates for their own health and safety, and the state's newest environmentalists.

Nick Hanauer, another Seattle Foundation donor, is committed to improving education. In addition to his charitable contributions to the Alliance for Education, which support student programs in Seattle schools, he helped found the League of Education Voters to create a statewide coalition for increased funding of public education. By meeting immediate needs and working for systemic change simultaneously, he hopes to see the rate of college education for Washington kids rise from two-in-10 to eight-in-10.

No matter what your politics may be or which issues you support, civic involvement invigorates the fiber and framework of our public life.

Another inspiring example of the new civic philanthropy is Seattle Works' Collaborate!, a program that was supported by a $30,000 Seattle Foundation grant this year. Collaborate! brought together 20- and 30-year-olds from a range of ethnicities and professions to talk about community issues through a series of "community cafes." Most of the participants had never met before and not only shared views but began to create connections and build leadership for tomorrow.

We need this kind of involvement and caring from everyone to create a healthy community: one that meets every resident's basic needs; provides broad access to arts, culture and recreation; promotes health and wellness; ensures a vibrant and diversified economy; establishes quality education and learning opportunities for all ages; and supports strong and connected neighborhoods.

This vision can only be achieved through the dual commitment of our citizens to charitable giving and active involvement in our public life.

As donors become more strategic, the Seattle Foundation is providing them with the tools they need to make informed gifts. In 2005, we will gather, organize and analyze qualitative and quantitative data to identify the areas of greatest need in King County as well as the opportunities to leverage positive community change.

These leverage points will surely come in many forms across a breadth of issues. It may be filling gaps in service, bricks-and-mortar projects, or building organizational capacity. Or it might be the complex work of bringing us together to create the kind of place where we all want to live and seeding the qualities of leadership we want to leave our children.

At the Seattle Foundation we say, "Your gift. Your community." In 2005, your gift might well be a gift of community.

Phyllis Campbell is the president and CEO of the Seattle Foundation, the oldest and largest community foundation in Washington state. The Foundation has assets of more than $350 million.

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