Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2019

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Transient nature of Nevada linked to low generosity ranking

Nevada ranks among the stingiest states when it comes to donating to charities, according to a national report.

The "Generosity Index," compiled yearly by the Boston-based Catalogue for Philanthropy, a group that educates donors, measures charitable deductions from individual tax returns and ranks each state on how much its residents give compared with how much they have.

The index is compiled from data the Internal Revenue Service releases in the spring that include adjusted gross income and deductions for charitable donations, state by state.

Though Nevada ranked 12th nationwide in terms of per-capita wealth, it was 40th out of 50 states in generosity. Seven of the 10 most generous states were from the South, including Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana.

Nevada has not done well in the past five years. Its best showing was in 2000, when it ranked 27th. The worst before this year was 1999, when it was 39th.

Experts consulted from different charities attributed the state's low ranking primarily to the large number of newcomers living in Nevada, as well as factors such as the carefree image that Las Vegas sells to the world.

"I've looked at this for a long time," Salvation Army spokesman Charles Desiderio said. "If you look at the top 10 states, these are not transient states.

"When you have a community that's 85 to 90 percent transient, one of the things that I've discovered is that people don't feel at home for six to eight years. And so contributions in these kinds of communities drop dramatically."

Salvation Army relies on giving from "Mr. and Mrs. Jones" for the bulk of its donations and is helped greatly by the strength of its national name, Desiderio said.

"People who move here from New Jersey or Des Moines (Iowa) know who we are," he said.

Anne Cory, president of the United Way of Northern Nevada and head of a state policy group on homeless families, said having a state with a high percentage of newcomers means that people don't feel a close relationship to their surroundings and the kinds of causes that charities support.

"People don't have a stake in things succeeding ... (and) don't feel connected or a part of something," she said.

She said that the failure of Question 11 in last Tuesday's elections -- a measure that would have raised property taxes to create a trust fund for helping the homeless -- could be linked to the shallow roots of much of Nevada's population.

Only 36 percent of voters supported the measure.

"They don't see ... how it would make their own lives better. There's a lack of knowledge about the needs and strengths of our community, and they're not even sure they're going to stick around -- so what's so compelling about giving?"

For Linda Lera-Randle El, a 45-year Las Vegas resident and director of Straight from the Streets, a nonprofit that helps the homeless, said part of the problem is the image that Las Vegas sells to the world.

"A lot of people in power have led others to believe that everything's OK here," she said.

" 'We're the international entertainment capital of the world, and no one can catch us,' is the message. So this gives the idea that we have no problems.

"(But ) we're not just mirrors and glitter. We have as many or more problems than other communities."

Lera-Randle El also said that it is no accident six of the top 10 states in the Generosity Index are also among the 10 poorest states in per capita income.

"Nobody knows what the poor go through more than poor themselves," she said. "It just goes to show that people who understand what others are going through are more inclined to give."

The homeless advocate added that many of her clients have sent donations to her nonprofit once they have gotten on their feet.

"I've had formerly homeless people send me $5 of the first $10 they've earned to help someone else," she said.

Still, those who work in charities are optimistic about the future of Nevada's giving.

For example, more and more people are calling the Salvation Army in recent years to volunteer their time to different causes, Desiderio said.

"Down the road, Summerlin, Green Valley and all these places are going to be 'home' to people, and since we have a high per-capita income you'll see our generosity go up," he said.

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