January 1, 2011       Mark Hrywna      

When it comes to ZIP codes, it’s hard to beat 90210, just ask Tori Spelling or AnnaLynne McCord. But just because it’s famous doesn’t mean it brings home the bacon when it comes to direct mail.  Nonprofits might want to become a little more acquainted with the 27410, the 43054, or the 20001 if an examination of direct mail fundraising during the past 10 years is any indication. The NonProfit Times asked direct response firm Merkle, Inc., to dig through fundraising databases to uncover the best places to look for charitable donations outside of California and New York. The Columbia, Md.-based company compiled data from 10 national nonprofit clients during the past 10 years (2001-2010), with which it helps raise $376 million annually in direct mail.

Outside California and New York, the top contributing ZIP codes during the past decade, based on a minimum 100 gifts, were:

  • 20001 – Washington, D.C., with an annual average of $4,426,964
  • 27410 – Greensboro, N.C.,  $1,183,381
  • 21202 – Baltimore, Md., $658,173
  • 43054 – New Albany, Ohio, $220,891
  • 19422 – Blue Bell, Pa., $153,467

During the past decade, Washington, D.C.’s 20001 has generated the most charitable donations of any ZIP code in the nation, averaging $4.4 million annually. Generating the most revenue were the years 2002 and 2009, with $10.2 million and $7.2 million, respectively. The top-performing ZIP codes change slightly, but are not altogether different, when a minimum of 500 donors are factored in:

  • 27410 – Greensboro, N.C., $1,183,381
  • 07083 – Union, N.J., $380,999
  • 21208 – Pikesville, Md., $351,278
  • 20817 – Bethesda, Md., $257,492
  • 19103 – Philadelphia, Pa., $231,751

“That a lot of these are metro ZIP codes doesn’t surprise me that a higher level of giving is coming out of those areas,” around Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, said Angie Moore, senior vice president and general manager of Merkle’s Nonprofit Group. “They are in a major metro or a high-value suburb of a major metro,” she said.

That not one of the cities regularly generates $10 million in a year shows the diversity of giving and where it’s coming from, she added. Several ZIP codes repeatedly appear within the top five, year over year, since 2001. Within that group, four ZIPs demonstrated the highest giving consistency by appearing within the top five ZIP codes at least four or more times since 2001: Greensboro, N.C. (27410), Winnetka, Ill. (60093), West Springfield, Mass. (01089) and Creve Coeur, Mo. (63141).

A few of the ZIP codes that ranked highly through the years share similar, and not altogether unexpected, traits: fast-growing suburbs outside of metro areas with an affluent, well-educated population.

On the ground

In his 21/2 years as president of the United Way of Greater Greensboro, Keith Barsuhn has seen that people are “very responsive to when you have a call to action on a special need.” An effort to infuse funds for more shelter space two years ago in response to a spike in situational homelessness raised $400,000, he said, in addition to the regular United Way campaign.

The Greensboro United Way kicked off a national movement in women’s philanthropy when it was the first to start a female de Tocqueville Society more than a decade ago, Barsuhn said. Today, the affiliate has the most female de Tocqueville members ($25,000 donors annually) for a market its size and among the largest nationwide. “It’s inspired other organizations to be able to achieve more with major gifts from high net-worth individuals,” he said. Greensboro is part of the Triad that includes Winston-Salem and High Point, which is routinely among the top in per-capita giving among United Way affiliates, Barsuhn said.

Up until a few years ago, the Greensboro ZIP code made up half of the county until it was split with a new one (27455), which Whisnant said might account for the largest numbers. Even so, Greensboro remains strong among the highest average ZIPs when it comes to direct mail, despite a drop off from $1.8 million in 2006 to $424,208 in 2007. The 27455 ZIP could be the best educated in the Greensboro area. Most residents having a high degree of education and a greater per capita income, according to John Whisnant, development officer at the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro and a member of the board of directors of Triad Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).

“Almost everyone is a working professional,” he said, adding that a large Jewish population might account for a good return on Jewish philanthropy specifically, he said. New Albany is on the periphery of central Ohio. What used to be a small farming community has quickly developed into a suburban area 15 miles northeast of Columbus.

“There’s a good bit of affluence there. What we’ve seen, not only are there people who have means, but lots of generous folks,” said Kermit Whitfield, director of communications for United Way of Central Ohio. Much of the development was catalyzed by Les Wexner, founder and CEO of Limited Brands, he said, with a number of spun-off companies remaining in the area, including Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch.  NPT