Living For Giving

Oklahoma is one of the most charitable states in the nation; here are a few of its rock-star givers.



Anyone who has ever lost his or her home or loved one to a tornado can tell you that Oklahoma may not be a wealthy state, but what residents may lack in luxury, they make up for in generosity. In times of extreme need or disaster, it’s not uncommon for charities to request that Okies actually stop dropping off donations. Nurturing others is just part of our nature.

The average Oklahoman gives anywhere from four to six percent of his income to charity each year, placing Oklahoma in the top 10 most philanthropic states in the nation. Oklahoma City alone ranks as the country’s seventh most generous metropolitan area – and these rankings are based on the donations of private individuals alone. They don’t account for the foundations that give millions of dollars every year to provide better lives for people locally and abroad. Oklahoma is home to many of these foundations; here are some of the state’s top philanthropic organizations.

Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation

Almost everyone in the Tulsa area knows someone who has been touched by the dedication of the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation, though the organization’s generosity extends far beyond Oklahoma. Although the Zarrows have passed away, their vision of providing for those in need lives on in their foundation, which provides grants to fight homelessness, reduce hunger and support other basic needs. The foundation is a crusader in ensuring equitable access to mental health, health care and social services for veterans and the disadvantaged in Oklahoma and Israel. This year alone, the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation has given approximately $27 million in financial support of these missions.

Education was also a top priority for the Zarrows during their lifetimes; in recognition of this, their foundation is an unstinting benefactor of Tulsa Public Schools and founded the Zarrow International School, a Spanish-language immersion elementary school, in the city. To train the future generation of those dedicated to pursuing social justice for others, the foundation also recently established the Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work – complete with a brand-new building – at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

“The Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation reflects the faith, vision and values that guided our founders, Anne and Henry Zarrow, who believed in building communities where marginalized populations are empowered and inspired to improve their lives,” says Bill Major, executive director of the foundation.

Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation

This home-grown global foundation, whose founders recently gave their names to the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa campus, is committed to improving education across the United States, strengthening ties to Israel and enhancing the quality of life for residents of the Tulsa area, especially for the young. Ongoing investments in Tulsa are aimed at enhancing public education for K-12 students, with an emphasis on providing development for teachers and addressing the crucial need for STEM education. The foundation also aggressively supports interventions for the reduction of child abuse and neglect, while offering leadership opportunities for area youth.

“We each share a fundamental responsibility to enhance the quality of life in our communities,” says Lynn Schusterman, founder and co-chair of the foundation. “By providing Tulsa’s youth with opportunities to enrich their academic achievement and develop into self-sustaining individuals, we hope they will contribute their time and talents to strengthening our community for future generations.”

In addition to its educational mission, the Schusterman Foundation is committed to implementing inclusion practices for the equality of all groups, with particular emphasis on the LGBTQ community. The organization is working to foster the next generation of Jewish leadership by providing opportunities for young Jewish people to become engaged with their culture, their community and Israel.

Communities Foundation of Oklahoma

The Communities Foundation of Oklahoma has only one mission: make life better in our state.

Initially focusing on the needs of citizens in rural Oklahoma when the foundation was created in 1992, during the past two decades, the organization has funded charities with such diverse missions as improving education, developing arts and culture, protecting the environment and the welfare of animals, providing health care for citizens and fulfilling basic necessities like food and shelter for those in need.

With this flexibility in mind, the foundation works with several sets of advisors who, in turn, recommend 501(c)(3) organizations as recipients of funding. Nearly any sort of charitable organization in Oklahoma is eligible for one of the foundation’s more than 850 funds. Types of funding include permanent and designated endowment funds, as well as an endowment matching program; scholarship funds to provide educational support; field of interest funds for various charitable endeavors; funds to address region-specific needs and more. In FY2015, the Communities Foundation awarded nearly $13 million in philanthropic aid.

“At its core, philanthropy is about loving humankind,” says Mary Jenkins, chairman of the board for the organization. “Oklahomans embody this spirit each and every day in countless ways. The collective generosity of every resident consistently places Oklahoma near the top of lists, such as The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s ‘How States Stack Up in Generosity.’  Oklahoma is more than just okay. Our benevolence makes us awesome.”


Helmerich Trust

Founded in 1965 by Walter Helmerich III and his wife, former Hollywood star Peggy Dow Helmerich, the Helmerich Trust’s impact on the state of Oklahoma can be seen in every corner. The interests of the trust are wide-ranging, from education and science to culture and spirituality. In FY2014 the organization donated more than $5 million to philanthropic causes. Over the years, the trust has focused on providing grants to capital projects and other endeavors that have widespread impacts on their local communities. Contributions in these areas are particularly evident in the Tulsa area, where the trust has supported initiatives for health care, research and development, parks, public schools and museums.

“Our grandfather [Walter Helmerich II] and father established a deep desire years ago to impact Oklahomans in a positive way by investing in education, the arts and efforts to help the less fortunate,” says Hans Helmerich. “My brothers and I consider it a privilege to continue in that tradition today.”

Inasmuch Foundation

The Inasmuch Foundation was created in 1982 by Edith Kinney Gaylord, one of the first female reporters for the Associated Press and daughter of Oklahoma news scion E.K. Gaylord. The name of the organization was inspired by Jesus’s words in the Gospel of Saint Matthew: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto me.”

In the three decades since its inception, the foundation has focused giving in areas that enhance education, health and human services and communities. Particular areas of funding interest include early childhood education, criminal justice and mental health. Its subsidiary foundation, the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, is dedicated to funding journalism (especially investigative reporting) endeavors nationally. In 2015 alone, Inasmuch contributed more than $19 million in charitable donations.

“Edith Kinney Gaylord realized the importance of philanthropy to a thriving community and often gave anonymously during her life,” says Bob Ross, president and CEO of Inasmuch. “She founded the Inasmuch Foundation to continue her legacy of helping those most in need and bettering communities and neighborhoods in Oklahoma. Her dedication to philanthropy is an example I hope all Oklahomans will follow.”    


Oklahoma City Community Foundation

Focused in the metro area, the Oklahoma City Community Foundation works with donors to create and provide stewardship of endowments to benefit the local community. The foundation administers the largest independent scholarship program in the state, annually awarding more than 700 scholarships. Since 1997, scholarship award funds have totaled $15.6 million. Other endeavors include grants for education, arts and cultural organizations, social services, health care, community and neighborhood initiatives, and services for senior citizens. Altogether, OCCF donated a total of $26.8 million to more than 1,000 local organizations in FY2015.

 “The Oklahoma City Community Foundation was founded to provide a way for individuals to make charitable gifts in an easy and efficient way,” says Director of Communications Cathy Nestlen. “Encouraging donors to help others is why we exist.”